The measures introduced by the Government to tackle a rising tide of violence in our public schools, both organised and sporadic, deserves time to work.
The consequences of inaction could cause profound and irreversible harm to a public education system that still justifies its place as the envy of the English-speaking Caribbean.
At major epochs of our history from Emancipation to decolonisation, our education system has been the beneficiary of bold reforms by visionary men and women – Coleridge, Mitchinson, Rawle, Parkinson, Thorne, Sandiford – as educators and administrators and through great Acts of Parliament.
One such initiative, introduced 30 years ago was the formal introduction of guidance counselling in 21 public secondary schools with the establishment of the temporary post of Guidance Counsellor. Eight years late, in September 1997, 23 permanent Guidance Counsellor posts were created.
A generation later, we find the necessity to introduce social workers to our schools. This, we are certain, should not relieve teachers and principals of their role as moulders and shapers of their charge’s destiny.
Indeed, from our reporting, we have gathered that myriad social ills have made their way into our primary schools; thus, we argue, were planted the seeds of our current difficulties in high schools, with students organised to engage in violent attacks on teachers among other evils.
This exposes an unfortunate tendency among our education leaders to introduce reactionary responses to problems.
While we lend our hand in support of the Prime Minister’s measures and urge that they are given time to take effect, we cannot but wonder if or when root-and-branch reforms of our educational system will proceed.
Where has the Government asked this fundamental question: “For what purpose do we intend to educate our children in the second and third decades of the 21st Century?”
Has the Government introduced these measures perceiving its young charges as trouble-makers, slackers and ne’er-do-wells, or as the children they truly are?
Could it be possible that the violence and anomie in the classroom is a symptom of much wider questions of student engagement, participation in school decision-making, or possibly – dare we say – the failures and limitations of standard classroom teaching and curricula?
It is here that we call on the Government to broaden its dialogue on the future of education in our changing nation. We take note that at the weekend, the Government emerged from talks with teachers unions – the so-called stockholders in education.
It is time for we, the People, to come to the table to help shape and plan for the next generation of students, rather than leaving the job to those engaged in the weekly ritual of reacting by pounding down the table.
This is a call for the people to be heard collectively of the way forward for education. We have had a National Advisory Commission on Education (NACE), now fully receded in the dust and distance of history’s rear-view mirror. Even then, the Hoyos Commission put on the table the eleven-plus common entrance exam for discussion.
We note the Prime Minister noising abroad about the primary school entrance examination’s relevance, joining the Minister of Education’s own publicly uttered misgivings. Perhaps now, at last, there may be serious, sustained attention to a system that had too long bred elitism not equity in our society, placing children at the mercy of a single day’s determinative role in the rest of their natural lives.
Now it the time for a national pow-wow on the future of a system that prepares our students to lead lives, take up jobs and use inventions not yet created…
We suggest that a directionless education system can only beget the crises of violence, aimlessness and self-destruction for our students. Policing them with soldiers in tow or warehousing them in facilities for like-minded children we submit may turn out to be a yet another Government PR exercise of producing maximum effort for minimal effect.
We do not need a band-aid response to a patient requiring major surgery and long-term rehabilitation
In the meantime, in very Barbadian fashion, we wait and see…