It’s normal for children to joke around and play pranks on each other for fun; in fact, it’s a natural part of growing up.
However, such pranks and jokes must never be confused with mischief and lawlessness.
On Wednesday, we were collectively shocked at a video circulating on social media, showing a schoolgirl’s hair being set on fire as she stood among her peers.
Police said no one was injured in the incident – thankfully – and that the matter would be investigated.
Social media was abuzz with reaction. Of course, there was the outrage. Some offered ideas of possible punishment for the perpetrator and then there were those who suggested that bad behaviour among our children was so commonplace that there was no need to get uptight about it.
Have we really reached the point at which we are no longer prepared to call wrong, wrong and fix it, especially when it comes to our children?
Wednesday’s incident could have easily ended in a very different way. Therefore, it would be irresponsible to dismiss it and move on. It was inappropriate and dangerous.
Particularly disturbing is that a schoolchild had an implement to start a fire; that there were audible sounds of laughter while the act was being carried out; and that someone was able to record the video while another’s life was at risk.
The increasing acts of deviance among our schoolchildren are frightening.
Last school year, there were too many reports of violent fights which resulted in grave injuries – including a male student losing a finger after being attacked by one of his peers with a cutlass.
Time and time again, our teachers have called for frank and open discussion with education authorities to tackle the problem. But, to date, there has been no public revelation of any comprehensive plan to eliminate this troubling issue.
There can be no mistaking that the Ministry of Education under the leadership of Ronald Jones, an outspoken veteran educator, has been making substantial investments to enhance the system to ensure our children benefit from a world-class education.
But what of arrangements to ensure that bullying and other acts of violence are erased?
Without such initiatives, even the well-intended endeavour to enhance the literacy and numeracy levels of our students, the future of this country, will fall woefully short.
Perhaps the time has come for our schools to make character-building part of the curriculum.
Admittedly, in an already busy school day, finding the time might be a challenge, but think of the benefits.
School is not just about learning concepts; it is also a place where a foundation must be built for having well-rounded adults. Every school should set a tone of respect, honesty, hard work, fairness and integrity for all students.
Character building can involve activities in the classroom that encourage students to develop and adopt ethical principles and behaviours that can extend far beyond the classroom.
Of course, this would have to be buttressed in the home.
It would be naïve to place all the responsibility for corrective action at the feet of the Ministry of Education or teachers. Indeed, the home is really where it all starts. Parenting, or rather the lack thereof, is still at the root of the poor choices being made by some of our children.
At risk of beating a seemingly dead horse, mothers and fathers have simply got to do better. Too many of our parents continue to pamper and excuse bad behaviour and then appear shocked when these actions result in tragic incidents.
The problem of lawlessness in and out of the classroom must be confronted and solved at home in the first instance. Children must not be allowed to behave as they like and have their own way. Every child needs caring but firm discipline in order to make positive choices, even when influenced by peer pressure to follow the crowd.
No child is inherently bad. They can be molded into responsible, respectable adults. But, like any worthwhile investment, it will take time, patience and tough love. Parents then must ask themselves whether they are ready to get the job done, or to simply allow the lives of their charges to go up in smoke.