Ameen: Put metal detectors in high-risk schools

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

St Augustine MP Khadijah Ameen. – File photo

St Augustine MP Khadijah Ameen called on the Government to help curb school violence by installing metal detectors and providing pupils with mentorship and social welfare counselling, addressing the UNC briefing on May 26.

She said a current “explosion in school violence” reflected violence in the wider society that she blamed on the Government’s dismantling of key initiatives by the former People’s Partnership government.

Lamenting 2,814 school drop-outs in 2000-2003 – 2,663 secondary and 151 primary – Ameen asked if the Ministry of Education had reached out to them.

She then alleged a massive shortage of school social workers, saying Trinidad and Tobago has only 127 when in fact the country’s pupils needed 334, meaning a shortfall of 207.

“Our social workers deal with issues such as child abuse and mental health. They address chronic absenteeism which usually is a red flag for other social issues.

“We have in our society today more children who are witnessing crime and violence. We have children whose parents have been murdered.

“The hurt and pain and anger they experience require qualified social workers. How are those children coping?”

Ameen lamented an infiltration of gang culture into schools in terms of drugs, weapons and violence.

“Even children who themselves are not delinquent find themselves in that difficult position of having to navigate classes, experience bullying and physical violence, and even sexual assault in the schools on the school compound.”

Ameen said after school, many youngsters cannot get jobs, as she lamented that they may then suffer social exclusion, anxiety and a lack of hope in the future.

She said young people desire not just jobs but also training opportunities towards meaningful employment, even as she chided the Government for closing the nursing academy in El Dorado and the hotel school at Chaguaramas and several technical/vocational training programmes. Ameen lamented a cut in GATE funding, but in contrast said UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar believes in young people.

“Under her government, there were more opportunities created for young people.”

She said young people need hope but were not now getting that.

“There is now a direct pipeline from the school system to gangs, joblessness, minimum wage and total hopelessness.”

Ameen urged more police engagement with schools, such as via the community police and municipal police, plus the involvement of the former community comfort patrol scheme.

“Metal detectors should be placed in schools starting with those high-risk institutions, to prevent weapons from entering the schools.

“The Defence Force and other arms of the protective services must be engaged in mentoring exercises within the schools, so they (pupils) will have positive role models to look up to.”

She said under the PP government, school principals could take proactive action such as by providing abuse counselling, conflict resolution and life-skills coaching.

Ameen asked people to examine the UNC’s track-record in government on creating a safe learning environment for their children.

“Under the UNC, it was always about improving the lives of students inside and outside of the classroom.”