Letter: Volatile situation in schools requires appropriate pre-emptive interventions

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Education Minister Priya Manickchand

Dear Editor,

When the situation in any school reaches the point where teachers have to abandon classes in protest, there is dire need for intervention by the authorities, parents and teachers in a tripartite arrangement. Are we heading for copycat situations in the USA where students take guns and other weapons to school and some of them use them? This situation needs to be addressed urgently.

Region Two, where I live, has seven secondary schools and one cannot envisage teachers being scared of students en masse and deserting the school. Is this an urban, inner-city problem where the culture and socialisation are different from rural areas? Whatever it may be, it is a scary problem that needs attention. (Mind you, everywhere has model students who do not pose problems and this is not about them).

I have taught for 12 years in Guyana, 18 in Belize, one in Grand Turk (T&CI), one in USA, and 5 in Canada at primary, secondary and tertiary level institutions, and never encountered a situation as happened in Georgetown last week where teachers had to abandon classes in protesting students’ behaviour. My experience has exposed me to the best schools where students are highly competitive to the ones with at-risk students with behavioural problems who are poor, from single-parent families and gang-affiliated, but teachers and administrators, including myself, are always in control. We need different many-pronged approaches to control new and emerging problems, rather than chalk and talk and corporal punishment, both of which are outdated.

In a letter of mine, published in the newspapers of July 11, 2015, titled Please Revamp and Modernise the Education System, Dr Roopnarine, one of the nine suggestions I made was, “Appoint trained counsellors in all schools for behavioural and vocational guidance. Staff should also get counselling when necessary.” Counselling referral forms should be filled out and given to the counsellor who should make the necessary intervention, including parent meetings. Counsellors should be proactive and check with teachers to become cognisant of issues that need addressing.

Additionally, have proper security, including abled security guards, surveillance cameras and screen students as they enter the school compound. Also, do not permit cell phones in classrooms as this leads to various issues including cheating at tests/exams. Liaise with the Police for quick responses when summoned. When I taught at RESA (Rockford Environmental Science Academy) in Illinois, USA, there was a Police officer in the school for students that the teachers could not handle, and a room called the “Think Tank” where such students were kept and supervised till their parents arrived.

Moreover, have co-curricular activities (aka extra-curricular activities) such as clubs – chess, table tennis, volleyball, cricket, football, dominoes, debating, choir, art & craft, etc – and make it mandatory for students to be a member of at least one club, for several years, as part of the credits for graduation. Many of us learned to play chess and other games in school clubs and some of us could not wait for the dismissal bell to run out and take our place on the volleyball court, while others kicked footballs, etc. These activities are for both physical and physical conditioning, as well as life skills.

For effective influence, invite religious and community leaders to deliver motivational speeches to the students regularly. Instil in them that other people are poor, hungry and suffering and that they should make optimum use of their opportunity. Invite also role models, rehabilitated drug addicts and ex-convicts, and single parents who succeeded to share their experiences in an effort to inspire students.

Furthermore, have remedial classes for struggling students and use various methodologies for achievement. Differentiated Instruction, the Multiple Intelligences approaches to learning, and the taxonomy of cognitive learning (recall, application, evaluation, etc) should be implemented by all teachers, some of whom need professional development. We cannot discount the fact that there are late developers, change in family circumstances, change in attitude and other factors that can cause students to improve academically and behaviourally.

There should be alternative/positive discipline. In Belize, students are issued with a Demerit/Merit Card on which demerits are crossed off, on one side, whenever there is a specific infraction, for example, no homework or disruptive in class. Five demerits result in detention, 15 in a suspension (which can be in-school), 25 which is the maximum can lead to expulsion after the school board meets. In between, there are counselling and parent conferences in an effort to modify undesirable practices/behaviours. On the obverse side of the card, students are given merits, which are also marked off and rewarded for accumulated merits with gifts, certificates, etc. The merits/demerits of each student is recorded in a notebook by the homeroom teacher in case there is loss or damage to the card.

Implement a zero-tolerance policy for bullying (which can lead to fatal retaliation and mental issues) and gang affiliation such as signs, tattoos, and association. Convene regular Parents’ Day in which parents, some lacking parenting skills, meet and are involved in good parenting practices such as monitoring and guiding their children. From experience, I know that parents of delinquent students hardly ever attend these sessions, but some do and it is worth the effort.

We as guardians of our children cannot sit idly by and see that they go astray, then throw up our hands in resignation, belly-up, and point fingers when we need to act responsibly.
We have to be proactive instead of continuing to be reactive.

Sincerely,
Karan Chand,
Educationist