Minister of Education Ronald Jones today assured students of St Leonard’s Boys’ School that they had nothing to be ashamed of following a stabbing at the school yesterday which left two students nursing injuries and two others facing a police probe.
Speaking in Parliament today on the 2018-2019 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, Jones reported that he had visited the school and offered words of comfort to the pupils.
“And I had to say to the students they have not done anything wrong. They were not involved in stabbing anybody. This nation brings a harsh punishment on the innocent as well by a global involvement of good, productive, decent young people and pit them against those who are problematic,” he said, adding that he had urged the students to remain focused and committed to building themselves, their families, their communities and country.
He also said the teachers were under added stress because of severe scrutiny by a nation which had been unfair to them for a long time, while complaining that some were playing politics with issues such as violence in schools.
The minister also responded to a recommendation by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur for the establishment of a compulsory national youth service in schools, designed to counter the current deviance.
He said several efforts were made from as far back as the 1970s for such a programme but there were stumbling blocks and concerns over whether only youth from certain social backgrounds should be involved.
“I still believe that we might be able to have a version in which young people must be able to do community service, and community service doesn’t mean you go and sweep a street. It means you can be involved in the various groups of your school . . . clubs and teams in our community,” he stressed, adding that such an initiative could allow for programmes in entrepreneurship, discipline, value clarification and patriotism.
The issue of school violence has again catapulted to the fore with a recent spate of stabbings and cutlass attacks.
However, the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) have been complaining for the past three years that the situation was getting out of hand, and had been calling on Jones to meet with them in a bid to identify a solution.
After a student of Ellerslie Secondary School (now The Ellerslie School) allegedly attacked a student in April 2016, Jones announced he would establish a committee to look into school violence and offer recommendations.
Today, the BSTU issued a statement criticizing the minister for his lack of action.
“Tomorrow will be 658 days since the Minister of Education promised, on 27th April, 2016 to set up a special committee to address violence in schools ‘within a week’. In actuality, 94 weeks have passed and no such committee has been established . . . no consultation has taken place with the persons in the trenches, our teachers, nor has their union been invited to any meetings to dialogue on this dangerous situation” the union said in the statement.
“Ironically, the union that has asked for such meetings at their quarterly meeting on 24th May, 2016 and at the subsequent meeting a year later, 24th May, 2017 has been denied any form of dialogue on the issue, to the present. They have even been barred from inclusion in recent meetings at the Grantley Adams School, which they initiated, despite protest against the ministry’s action from members there.”
BSTU President Mary Redman, who issued the statement, said the union had placed the issue of violence in schools on the agenda for their meeting last week with the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, but it was removed.
“How serious therefore are we to take the new promises emanating from those at the ministry that this issue will be addressed? How secure are workers and students in schools to feel with proclamations that no one will be ‘abandoned’ in this regard? Where and when has this intention been demonstrated to those of us exposed to unprecedented levels of escalating violence in our workplace?”
“The BSTU will meet with teachers tomorrow at headquarters of the National Union of Public Workers at which they are expected “to focus on and devise recommendations and strategies to protect ourselves and the students in our charge within the context of a Ministry of Education seemingly unable and uninterested in doing so”.
Jones today again insisted there would be no metal detectors at the island’s schools, a position with which his Cabinet colleague, Minister of Health John Boyce, disagrees.
The Minister of Education insisted the scanners would not solve the deviant behaviour, especially as it extends outside of the school compounds.
“One of the first skirmishes three weeks ago didn’t happen at a school door, it happened on a school bus. So [are] we going to put metal detectors on school buses? When we are tired of that we are going to put them up in our villages and in our streets so that everybody that passes through one will be scanned,” Jones asked rhetorically, adding that plastics, as well as many other pieces of material which are readily available, could be shaved to form weapons which scanners could not detect.