President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) Mary Redman is urging Minister of Education Ronald Jones to intervene urgently to curb worrying levels of school violence.
Both the BSTU and the Barbados Union of Teachers have longed complained about school violence, which they said was getting out of control, and Redman today said she was fed up of the “lip service” being paid by Jones, while the frequency and savagery of the violence had reached frightening proportions.
In the latest incident, four students from two Government-run secondary schools yesterday received multiple stab wounds aboard a state-run Transport Board school bus.
Police reported that the injuries, which were not classified as life threatening, resulted from an altercation between students from two secondary schools in the north of the island, which Barbados TODAY later confirmed were the Daryll Jordan and Frederick Smith secondary schools.
The Ministry of Education strongly condemned the incident in a statement issued through the Barbados Government Information Service, in which it confirmed that there was a “fracas” involving students of two of the island’s secondary schools and that there “might have been some injuries because of this commotion”.
It also said it was awaiting communication from the Royal Barbados Police Force and the principals of the respective schools before making any additional comments about the incident.
“The ministry nevertheless frowns on this type of behaviour and urges all students to conduct themselves in a manner which exemplifies the highest decorum and behaviour possible,” the statement said.
However, Redman told Barbados TODAY the ministry talked a good game but had come up short on meaningful action. She explained that given the frequency and increased ferocity of these violent outbursts, many of which are captured on camera and posted on social media, teachers were feeling as though they had been left to fend for themselves.
“The issue is obviously escalating. We had a situation at Ellerslie [Secondary School] recently where students have been charged and the prospect of being charged and going to court with a possible outcome that is not desirable to any young child has obviously not acted as a deterrent,” Redman said in reference to an incident in November last year in which a 17-year-old student lost a finger, had another partially severed, and suffered several chop wounds to his right hand.
“For the new school term there have been so many incidents brought to my attention and we are not even at mid-term yet. I have seen a video in which a female student broke a bottle in another female student’s face. What are we really doing? It is the teachers who have a duty of care to the students during the day. To what extent are teachers expected to put themselves at risk when students are carrying deadly weapons?”
Back in 2016, at the height of concerns by teachers about a spate of violent incidents in schools, Jones had announced plans to establish a broad-based committee to investigate such violence, including student-on-student and student-on-teacher violence.
Jones had also said the committee would investigate any cases of teacher-on-student violence “if that exists” and would provide recommendations on how to resolve the issue and enhance security at schools.
However, there has been no visible movement on the committee since, and a frustraed Redman told Barbados TODAY Jones had done nothing but talk.
“At the level of the schools we have been waiting patiently for the Ministry of Education to put its plans into action. We are now about two months shy of two years since the Minister of Education promised a committee to be set up, followed by a series of meetings to deal with violence in schools. It is not something that has been addressed in any way, much less in a meaningful way in the intervening two years,” she said.
The union boss said a quarterly meeting between the ministry and the teachers’ unions is scheduled for next Tuesday, and the committee will be on the agenda for the talks.
“I am hoping that we do not hear, as we have heard for the last two years, plans to establish this committee again. I hope instead we would be hearing some measure of an actual plan of implementation,” Redman said.
Two weeks ago a disturbing video emerged online showing a male student from Grantley Adams Memorial School setting fire to the hair of an unsuspecting female student, who was on her mobile phone at a bus stop a stone’s throw away from the Blackman’s, St Joseph school.Another student quickly extinguished the fire and the affected pupil escaped injury.
The alleged perpetrator was later charged and sent off to the Government Industrial School following the incident which drew sharp condemnation from the President of the Barbados National Council of Parent Teachers Association Shone Gibbs, who described the video as “extremely disturbing” and nothing to laugh about.