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When former secondary school principals Jeff Broomes and the late Matthew Farley exposed to the press the weapons which had been confiscated from students on the school’s compound, they were vilified and castigated in some quarters for making dark predictions about where such students were heading.
They asked for help from the authorities, and interventions into the lives of the families from whose households these students came. No help was forthcoming. Other principals refused to also speak up because apparently it was largely thought that such weapons were a “newer secondary school problem” or else the problem of these particular principals. Today, those worthy men have proven to be visionaries.
The most recent violent fracas on the Government-owned Transport Board bus, coupled with the social media postings of late, highlight a deep national problem. Students are violent, and they are becoming more so. Here are a few solutions to assist with the problems of student violence on and off the school’s compounds.
• Eliminate the current allocation system of bussing academically weak students to particular schools which are far away from their homes. They cannot endure the journey, be productive in the classroom and become involved in positive extracurricular activities when they are going to have a three-hour journey both morning and evening. There is too much scope for mischief.
Let students go to the secondary schools closest to their homes, thus using the Common Entrance results to target those who need extra help in the classrooms.
• Eliminate the differences in school uniform designs at the secondary level. A lot of the violence between schools come about as a result of school rivalry. When students wear the same colours (white shirt and dark shorts or full-length pants), then the identification of certain students for violent retaliations is eliminated.
• Engage the soldiers of the Barbados Defence Force to work as bus attendants for our Transport Board. This country is engaged in only one war – that is for the lives of our youth. If we are investing so much in maintaining an army in peace time, then they can earn their keep by being scheduled to work morning and evening shifts on the buses.
• Make it mandatory that each school has a parenting intervention programme for every parent of a student found fighting, swearing, cheating or committing any other suspension-worthy infractions; and that attendance to the six-week programme be mandatory during school hours. Parents would be expected to attend the school once a week for six weeks.
Money should be deducted from their pay cheques if they are employed during this time, and used to repair any damage their children may have caused to Crown or private property, or as compensation for their children’s victims. Failure to attend the mandated sessions should result in enrolment of the student into Boot Camp, and the parent having to pay a fine of not less than $500. Legislation would need to be passed to support this.
• Address the students’ academic and emotional frustrations in a meaningful way by engaging the expertise of doctors, policemen, counsellors, pastors, retirees and community workers in the vicinity of the school, to become a part of the everyday classroom life of the school.
• Give students a greater say in the areas of academics or skills they choose to study, moving towards a more flexible timetable/subject approach. Mid-morning breaks should also be re-instituted, to give students assimilation time.
These are a few suggestions which, if implemented, I believe would start to show a difference in the lives of our children. The attention alone should cause the Hawthorne effect. Let’s see what happens in six months.
– DIANA HARRISON