STATEMENT OF DR THE HONOURABLE TIM GOPEESINGH, MINISTER OF EDUCATION, ON ISSUES OF SCHOOL BULLYING, AT TODAY’S PRESS CONFERENCE.
A very pleasant good morning to one and all and thank you for coming here on such short notice. This meeting this morning, with the Minister of National Security, Honourable Carl Alfonso; Minister of People and Social Development, Honourable Christine Hosein; and other representatives, was called specifically to address some the extremely worrying issues of school bullying and what appears to be increased violence among our student body nationally.
This has been evident in the past few years and with examples as recent as only last week by the numbers of viral videos on social media platforms such as Facebook depicting instances of school bullying and children fighting in truly alarming and even brutal ways.
The issue of school bullying and violence in schools has been ongoing and increasing for over two decades now.
Indeed, reports conducted since the 1990s on this matter had indicated that one of the primary causes was a lack of proper parenting in the homes.
Now I want to stress that the Ministry of Education has, under the past five years, gone at lengths to ensure that all systems are in place to deal with these terrible instances, aimed as personal security of students, teachers and other school personnel, as well as the psychological development and assistance to the children who are both victims of bullying and perpetrators.
This is because we at the Ministry of Education have recognised that when it comes to child on child violence, often, the perpetrators themselves are victims of larger problems, which may stem from issues in the home or community, or mental and psychological issues.
We therefore make a very conscientious effort to ensure that all children are assisted in these instances.
Thus far, the Ministry of Education has implemented the following methods to combat school bullying and violence among students in schools:
• We have employed over 170 health and safety officers in schools with at least two HSO officers per Government Secondary School and 5 district coordinators.
• We have the full complement of security officers for all schools, from primary to secondary, where there are a minimum of three security officers during the day, with some secondary schools benefitting from up to seven security officers during the day.
• We have ensured that thousands of teachers have been trained and retrained in Alternative Dispute Resolution and Mediation
• We have the full complement of student support services which constitutes guidance counsellors, guidance officers and school social workers, with educational, behavioural and clinical psychologists looking after our students in need as well. This comprises over 700 personnel in all our schools—all 455 primary schools and 125 secondary schools.
• We have ensured that there is one teacher to every 14 students in primary schools and one to every twelve students in secondary schools, which is way better than the Gold Standard around the world.
• We have established over 280 remedial teachers and close to 300 substitute teachers in in primary and secondary schools in different subject areas.
• All teacher vacancies have been filled
• All schools have the full complement of required deans of discipline. Some are acting in these positions, but no position, as far as has been reported, are vacant at present
• We have strong school based management team in every school in the country. This management team comprises the Principal, Vice Principal, Representatives of the PTA and Student Council, Deans of Discipline, and Heads of Department who help in the school management on a day to day basis.
• We have established 85 Local School Boards in ALL Government Primary and Secondary Schools, with three members of the community on these boards, specifically put there to look after community affairs in relation to education and students
• We have established a Circle of Hope where students have a special session on a weekly basis where they speak with teachers on issues they may have
• We have aggressively worked towards improving the academic performance of students and increasing co-curricular and extracurricular activities including sports in schools, and as you may know, sports have been shown to widely reduce indiscipline among students who participate in them, by building self-esteem, imparting discipline and the general benefits of exercise and competition tends to tremendously impact on their well being
• We have implemented a system where motivational speakers visit schools to have chats with the children
• We are also working with the Ministries of National Security and Gender, Youth and Child Development in implementing other programmes
• We have established over 100 workshops for parents in parenting in education throughout the country in the last six months
• We have now formed a Parenting Academy from the Student Support Services of the Ministry of Education so thousands of parents are now involved in this programme
• We have ensured that Security Officers and HSOs have two hand held scanners in every secondary schools which they ought to be using as a security measure
• Several schools have been installed with CCTV cameras and all schools will shortly have the full complement of these
• We have implemented a system where students are subjected to random walk in body scans, like those in the airports, on mornings at schools.
So as you can see, ladies and gentlemen, the Ministry of Education has worked tremendously towards ensuring that all contributing factors of school bullying are dealt with. Unfortunately, as is the case in general, this has not been enough so far to completely eradicate the scourge.
The videos surfacing on social media and subsequently, the mainstream media which then reports on them, are naturally very disturbing and require immediate action.
Naturally, parents are extremely concerned for the safety of their children in the one place where their children spend half their time away from home—in our schools.
I want to stress that social media has made it possible to record these instances of violence and bullying, but it is still a few children who engage in such disturbing behaviour.
The fact remains that the majority of our student population are disciplines, ambitious and often, well behaved children.
The methods I outlined above have gone a long way to reducing instances of school bullying and student violence and indiscipline, but of course, will require some more time to take full effect.
We will always have those exceptions however, as demonstrated in hose viral videos, and I wish to stress today that the Ministry of Education will not shirk in its responsibility to ensure that the fundamental rights of our students, teachers, principals and other school employees are protected.
That right is to safety and protection.
In no way will the Ministry of Education allow parents, students, teachers and principals to live in fear for their safety or their children’s safety.
This is why this morning, I have asked the National Security Minister to ensure that the police service in all communities stands ready and willing to make the necessary interventions when criminal acts of assault are committed against students.
The Principals already know that when students break the law, it is well out of their purview to handle this.
Criminal acts in our schools, regardless of who perpetrates them, are criminal acts and must and should be dealt with by the police.
I wish to stress, though, that we recognise the sensitive nature of these actions when committed by children, and we will never shirk our responsibility to all students.
The Ministry of Education has thus ensured that we will work alongside the police to deal with these disturbing acts, to protect the children who are perpetrating them, and to ensure that they are dealt with in a compassionate manner, for as I said before, child on child violence often happen when the perpetrator has larger issues to deal with, and as a society, we cannot abandon our children who need help.
This, as you must appreciate, is a delicate situation, which requires sensitivity, compassion and a firm hand to ensure safety and security in our schools are preserved alongside the rights and wellbeing of our children.
We are dealing with it.
We also have to make a decision about how we treat with cell phones in schools, since it appears that when children know they are performing for a camera, they are tempted to behave in even more risky behaviour.
My friends, I appeal to all in the communities to join with the Ministries and police to ensure that violence and bullying in schools are eradicated.
Parents must never shirk their responsibility to raise their children properly, with boundaries and with a keen understanding and appreciation for civility and respect for others.
Our teachers and other stakeholders in the education system often do heroic acts of managing problem children in our schools, but parents must now take active charge of their roles in raising their children, since this is where discipline, compassion, respect for others and proper, civilised behaviour is taught, learnt and enforced.
The time has come for parents to re-assume their responsibility as their children’s true caretakers and role models, for it is the only way we can eradicate such problems.
I have faith that all our methods will ultimately succeed and I sincerely thank all present here today, as well as our teachers, Principals and all education stakeholders, for their heroic, patriotic and unwavering dedication and efforts to ensure our children’s wellbeing are preserved.
For further information please contact the Corporate Communications Division, Ministry of Education: ph:628-1581 / fx:628-2088