An interesting call was made yesterday by the president of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) for Government to ditch its current policy of allocating students to secondary schools.
Pedro Shepherd’s call comes amid a worrying increase in violence in schools, with the majority of recent incidents occurring at what are considered “the newer” secondary schools, such as Grantley Adams Memorial School, Daryll Jordan and Frederick Smith, which are more pejoratively referred to as the “low performing” or “under achieving” Government run secondary schools on the island.
Based on these worrying incidents, Mr Shepherd said a special committee was established by his umbrella union two months ago, which concluded that the practice of placing all underachieving students at select schools was creating an environment that breeds indiscipline.
“The system of allocating students to our secondary schools is a problem and the Ministry of Education needs to review the current allocation system for the Barbados Secondary Schools’ Entrance Examination [commonly referred to as Common Entrance exams] which would allow for some of the slower students to be allocated to the so-called better schools,” he told the opening ceremony of the BUT’s 44th annual general conference at Almond Bay in Worthing, Christ Church yesterday morning, while repeating a suggestion made that “30 per cent of the allocation to those schools be taken from among the underachievers”.
We believe that Mr Shepherd and indeed his colleagues in the BUT who came up with this suggestion are all well meaning. Indeed, other than our students, no one knows better than our teachers, who are often in the frontline of these violent attacks, the misery and abject disruption caused by such incidents which have had the effect of robbing them of a peaceful environment in which to work and to learn.
However, like its criticism of the Ministry of Education’s “one size fits all” approach to education, we believe the BUT’s assessment of the root causes of indiscipline in our schools is seriously flawed, since the problem of violence in our classrooms goes way beyond the 11-plus exam.
For while there may have recently been more recorded incidents of violence in the aforementioned “newer” secondary schools, Mr Shepherd must know by now, based on his own personal experiences, that our “older” secondary schools are also not immune to these ugly episodes.
In fact, we vividly recall that a few months back there were reports of a student with a gun magazine at one of our more reputable places of learning. Recent history also brings to mind the numerous other incidents that were either swept under the carpet, or hidden from the national spotlight with a view to protecting the “pristine” image of the said learning institutions.
But the fact of the matter is that none of our schools is what they used to be, but even in cases which have reached the national press, it is easy for right thinking persons to decipher that the entire school population should not and not be written off on account of the actions of one or the few.
Therefore, it should matter less to us to which schools our children are allocated, and more what is the daily diet of information that they are feasting on either before, after or during their school day that predisposes them to violent behaviour. Furthermore, what mechanisms are currently in place in our schools to deal with such negative outbursts and to ensure there is immediate damage control; in other words that those who are looking on immediately understand that such behaviour is not only to be shunned, but openly condemned while the alleged perpetrator or perpetrators are appropriately disciplined.
In a school setting such disciplinary measures include but must not be limited to suspension and dismissal where necessary, so that our students will know and understand early in life that there are consequences for their actions even in cases where the teaching of these important lessons may have been neglected in the home.
But to transfer the problem from “low achieving” to “high achieving” schools is certainly not the answer. In fact, who is to say that this will not redound to even greater frustration among the “underachievers” who may sooner resort to violence.
We note that the union has suggested mandatory counselling for troubled students even at the primary level. It also suggests that there should be residential programme for violent and deviant students so as to remove them from the contributing environments, namely their homes and communities as well as a remedial reading programme to benefit the slower students “who oftentimes become frustrated when a text is placed before him or her”.
These are all noteworthy suggestions, but we would like to suggest that we address the problem of indiscipline where and when it currently exists, instead of dispersing it to the point that it becomes easier for some to ignore or deny in an already deeply flawed system.