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IN THE CANDID CORNER: Schools reflect society

Matthew Farley

IN THE CANDID CORNER: Schools reflect society

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“Students told us that some kids are having sex in school bathrooms and hallways – even in classrooms.” – John Stossel, ABC News
During the past three weeks or so, both the print and broadcast media have been inundated by the discussion and debate triggered by the publication of a still from a video of two teenagers having a sexual encounter in a local classroom. Almost overnight every caller to the talk shows was an expert on teen sex and felt competent to give advice as to the causes of the problem and none was short on the possible solutions.
The newspaper has been variously accused of being irresponsible and being interested only in the almighty dollar bill. There have been calls for censorship and for the matter to be fully investigated. On another level, the champions of the rights of children charge that the rights of the teens involved have been violated. The discussion has been so intense that the impression is given that sexual activity in our school is widespread. While it is acknowledged that all incidents are never known or found out, one gets the impression that all our teenagers are doing across the school system on a daily basis is having sex.
Schools are a reflection of the society from which they draw their students. Schools do not exist in a vacuum. Students are not born in schools but in homes where they are supposed to be guided and in which their values are to be inculcated. Clearly, in many of our homes, this is not happening. Indeed, many of the problems which show up in our schools do not originate there and as such cannot be solved there.
In my own experience as a secondary school administrator over the past ten years, I have dealt with about three cases of students who were reported or caught engaging in sexual contact while on the school compound. I have come across a number of students with condoms in their bags or on their person indicating that they might have had plans of engaging in some form of sexual activity. However, I think the majority of students in our secondary schools do not come to school looking for sexual encounters. In every situation in which human beings converge, whether at work, at play or even at church there are individuals whose natural inclination is to engage in sexual experimentation or have some form of sexual activity.
It is not by any stretch of the imagination a recent development neither is it something that will disappear overnight. Given the pervasive nature of modern technology and the ease with which data can be uploaded to and downloaded, activities that are often staged for cyberspace are on the increase. Our youth are fascinated by the extent to which modern technology has empowered them to impact instantly on the social media environment. A new set of rules, standards and guidelines is long overdue.
The issue of students arriving late for school continues to be a major challenge for both primary and secondary schools in Barbados. In fact, the practice of students playing truant is not new. To our credit, it is felt that our truancy officers have done a very good job in containing the problem. However, unpunctuality continues to present major problems to school leaders who understand their role in inculcating the value of punctuality. While, there are instances in which transportation difficulties are the reason for lateness, in the majority of cases many students are waking up late, leaving home late or have to go to collect money from one parent or the other and are arriving at school as late as 10:30 and 11 a.m. without any explanation.
What is worrisome, is that often when parents are contacted, they are either ignorant of what is happening or sometimes their reaction is callous or downright indifferent. Only this week, when a parent of a late arrival was called her reaction when told of her daughter’s lateness was: “If she late, she late.” On the other hand when that same parent was expected to attend a form level meeting two days later, she was nowhere to be found.
Action on the part of the school is extremely critical for many reasons. There are children, mainly girls who are leaving home, dressed for school but are not arriving there on time or not at all in some instances. Persistent lateness on the part of students is often an indication that there are other issues about which both the school and the home must be concerned.
The Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation cannot be at variance on this matter. While as principals we must be legally compliant, a strong message must be sent that persistent unpunctuality will not be tolerated. Suspension is not an unreasonable response for persistent unpunctuality, since it draws the attention of parents to what might very well be only the tip of an iceberg.
• Matthew Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education and a social commentator.