Prime Minister on school violence: We can’t beat our way out of it

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Keith Rowley addresses the media after his return from Barbados at the VIP Lounge, Piarco International Airport on Thursday. Photo by Jeff K. Mayers

CORPORAL PUNISHMENT will not be the solution for school violence the Prime Minister said on Thursday as he responded to number of videos of school children fighting.

Speaking with the media at the Piarco International Airport on Thursday, Dr Rowley said a better approach must be used.

“There is no intention to beat our way out of this,” Rowley said when asked if the re-introduction of corporal punishment would be used to curb school violence.

In a media release on Thursday, the Education Ministry said it assembled a team to look at appropriate measures to curb school violence since suspension seems to have the opposite effect. The ministry said suspension now is seen as a “badge of honour.” The statement said based on the School Discipline Matrix, suspension is one of the most severe punishment used as a deterrent.

The release identified 15 schools as having acts of violence among children. With the spate of violence now, a special committee is expected to deliver recommendations by the first week of May to address the issue. This committee will include officials from Ministries of National Security, Youth Development, Social Development and Family Services, Sport and Community Development, Gender and Child Affairs, along with the Children’s Authority and the police.

As an immediate measure the Education Ministry said police officers will be assigned to the 15 schools. The ministry also wrote to the Commissioner of Police for advice on removing violent students from the schools to one that offer rehabilitative services.

“The TTPS has also been asked to immediately provide patrols directly outside of the schools in question, as well as in their vicinity, at the close of the school day, to deter students from violent outbursts.”

Rowley said he is “very concerned” about the violence seen this week and called on parents and guardians to join in the fight against school violence.

“The Minister of Education is actively engaged in the process by which we are streaming students who exhibit violent behaviour in school space. We will hear about that in the very near future, about the consequences for violent behaviour as well as providing support for the children.”

“When you see these videos, they (the children in them) are known to us. There are issues in dealing with them, one of which is the consequences. We have to recruit the parents of these children to join in assessing them and encouraging improvements in their conduct. Because all of these children, bar maybe a few, have parents at home, who I will like to believe will not condone this kind of behaviour.”

The Education Ministry noted that in many cases, parents, in particular those of repeat offenders, fail to attend meetings organised by the schools in relation to their children, leading to the formation of the inter-ministerial and police committee.

“A trend also observed is the fact that making contact with the parents of the repeat offenders is often very difficult for school officials, and those parents generally do not attend the various parenting seminars and other developmental programmes hosted by the Student Support Services at the schools.”