Friday’s stabbing death at the Frederick Smith Secondary School has served as a reality check on a great many things – the nature of crime and violence in the wider society, the safety and security of our children and their teachers at school, and the future of education in Barbados, to name a few.
We have already begun to place blame on many different factors. The truth is school violence and disorder have been festering sores on our education system for years, and now, anger, weapons, an inability to solve problems, a failure to communicate and apathy have found a target in human life.
For all this decade, social media have given adults and children, tools if not weapons to record major fights, sexual acts and other illicit activities involving schoolchildren in uniform, invoking a range of instant emotions from titillation to ire.
After a few days, many of these videos are either removed and some forgotten, leaving in their wake ruined reputations and fractured families. Then, out trot commentators to express outrage through the same social media channels or the radio call-in programme. Yet precious little is ever done to address the problems that led to the deviant behaviour in the first instance.
Now, in response to last week’s tragedy, Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw has announced that metal detectors are to be used at Frederick Smith Secondary when it reopens on Thursday.
In her words: “We are not looking at metal detectors in terms of framed metal detectors, but we are exploring the handheld detectors as an option.
“We want to ensure the plant is safe because at this stage I can give no reassurances that students may not have weapons on them next week.”
She added that the security devices would not be used at all the schools, but at those where there have been what she described as “significant challenges”. As a precautionary measure, spot checks and random searches are to be carried out, she added. The ministry is also to ensure that points of entry at schools are to be properly secured.
These suggestions have been made before but commentators complained that we would be turning the school into a prison, discriminating against certain students based on where they live or their family background, or that we are picking on particular schools. To the best of our knowledge, the suggestions were shelved.
Now the authorities feel compelled to act. This time, we suggest that common security measures should include all the schools, because some schools that may be considered “low risk”, owing to their elitist reputation, have their share of misbehaving children, too.
These checks should also be done regularly, not as a panic response as seems to be the case now, which means ensuring that the security equipment is functional at all times.
Regarding points of entry, it can no longer be acceptable that some schools have perimeter fences which have been damaged for years on end with no effort being made to repair them, either by the ministry itself or the schools’ Board of Management or Parent-Teacher Associations.
And it bears pointing out that metal detectors and weapons checks do not address students who, for whatever reason, may respond aggressively to an offensive remark or some other provocation, by taking up a rock, a compass or divider, or even a chair or table leg, to inflict injury on a fellow student.
Psychiatrist Dr Ermine Belle says: “Violence in schools comes from violence in society, and this slide took place gradually over time because Barbadians were in denial about the impact of the morality-numbing influences in society.”
The Minister of Education apparently concurs, noting that teachers were concerned about gang-related activities and other community problems manifesting themselves within the school system for quite some time.
She is also aware that apart from the socio-economic issues that may have contributed to deviant behaviour, physical, mental and emotional abuse are also factors, and in many instances, there are not enough counsellors or psychologists to help the children encountering these issues.
The Barbados Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools has urged the ministry to make good on its promise to introduce more guidance counsellors and safety officers to schools and to have social work students from the University of the West Indies participate as part of their internship.
But we are reminded by the comments of Principal of the Deighton Griffith Secondary School, Anthony Alleyne, who, adding his voice to the debate said: “As adults, we have to redouble our efforts to do the best we can for these young people to show them that there is a better way.
“It does not only apply to those within the schools, but also within agencies, the community, and the churches, because at the end of the day it is about our children, regardless of how we got here and who we think is to blame.”
Instead of merely ascertaining where these school problems all began, we have to recognise that, although it has been long delayed, it is time to take some serious action.
No, we may not eliminate all bad conduct in schools with these measures, but at least it is a step in the right direction that will lead to a less fearful and more friendly experience for teachers, students and parents alike.