Scores of citizens were left aghast over the past 48 hours, after videos surfaced on social media of yet another violent school fight. It was the latest in a series of such incidents since students returned to physical classes following an almost two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More importantly, however, was the fact that in this latest case on Monday, a female Williamsville Secondary student was injured by another female student.
Initial reports suggest there is more to the case than can be gleaned from the videos, it apparently being the end result of a case of bullying in which the main attacker was, in fact, the bullied victim, who, unfortunately, chose to lash out at her tormentors. The incident could have had a far worse end than what transpired, since the student wielding the weapon was separated from the other girl she attacked by one of her male schoolmates.
While the offending female student may have justifiably used provocation as a cause for her response then, violence was certainly not the way to respond, especially since she will now have to face the full brunt of the law for what became an act of violence.
And this brings us to the deep-seethed issue of indiscipline and violence within the nation’s schools.
Only last week, the Ministry of Education, as part of its response to violence and indiscipline within the school system since its reopening for physical classes, proposed a National School Discipline Matrix. Among its features was a demerit system meant to reward good behaviour amongst students while punishing the ill-disciplined students. The intended programme is still to be discussed further with stakeholders, but we dare say at this stage, a programme like this will clearly not work in schools where there are high-risk students.
Chief Education Officer Dr Peter Smith also noted that serious fights and suspensions were down to almost zero in schools due to a few initiatives implemented in the current term, including the involvement of the T&T Police Service. But, clearly, in the case of the Williamsville incident and one in Tobago last week, the students are taking their unsavoury activities outside the schools to avoid the glare of the police and teachers.
As such, it seems more feasible that the T&T Unified Teachers’ Association’s recent call for more resources for the Student Support Services Unit must be considered. This is because the violence being displayed by students now is but a microcosm of what is happening in wider society.
As such, the only way to get to the bottom of this is for psychologists and behavioural experts to probe issues, get to the heart of the problems and craft responses which will achieve the desired positive end results for the affected students. What we do know is that the current mechanisms to deal with indiscipline in schools, which basically takes students out of the system by way of suspensions, have failed up to now. However, we are not sure the discipline matrix unveiled last week will be more responsive to trouble students’ needs or is merely more of the same approach to the issue.
Clearly then, Education Ministry needs a much deeper dive in its approach to curbing this worrying trend within the school system.