By Phillip Edward Alexander
Now that we've all had our reactive say regarding the sudden wave of violence and bullying in our nation's schools being recorded and shared, perhaps it might be a good time to go a little further with the conversation if only to arrive at something more than talk.
Phillip Edward Alexander is a social and political activist, a feature writer and columnist, the founder of the Jericho Project and the chairman of the Citizen's Union of Trinidad and Tobago
First off, there seems to be a spike due to 'copycatting' that many others (myself included) believe is spurred on by the videos themselves, and if the recording devices are contributing to the problem, shouldn't we be dealing with that? Like the rash of amateur school girl porn that made the rounds prior, there are many more reasons to ban the more advanced cell phones during school hours than there are any reasons to allow them.
First off, they put your child in danger from those who would prey on them for the valuable phone. Secondly, any purpose served by a child having a phone in school can be served by a utilitarian 'cheap phone' limited in capabilities to phoning and texting. An outright ban on all camera phones needs to be enacted by edict from the ministry of education as an immediate first response to addressing these issues.
But let's go deeper. Addressing the actual violence the questions need to be asked, what is driving it, and what role can the school environment play in ameliorating it. With these two bits of information in hand we could at least begin the work of tackling the problem before it gets worse.
Make school an environment of learning and development again. Along the way, many of our schools seem to have become a teenage baby sitting service, somewhere safe for our young adults to waste their time in a relatively safe environment, and I want to ask, when was that decision made?
Clearly this position is not only failing the children but is failing society as a whole by delivering thousands of functional illiterates into the workforce every year and contributing in no small part to the nightmare that law enforcement has to contend with. Non functional adults who cannot earn become grist for the crime mill, a statistic known worldwide and one that should be spurring us to take a hard look at the function of our schools in the development of the nation.
But back to my point, I have suggested on numerous occasions that the school environment itself needs to be addressed. School maintenance chores should be farmed out among the classes and then among the students as consequence for failing grades or indiscipline. This would have the effect of teaching students to respect the environment if for no other reason than they themselves may end up cleaning it up, and if nothing is will drive the point home that if you fail at school you could end up a janitor, and at least it could give those who opt for that life regardless some janitorial skills so as to assist them in getting a job when they fail out of school.
Nothing teaches responsibility like responsibility, and while it may appear to be circular reasoning, remember that it is the avoidance of discomfort that is at the heart of every discipline lesson. Want to bully others? Fine, but you will scrub the toilets they use with your bare hands in exchange, and let's see if critical thinking allows a link to be made and a lesson to be learnt.
Moving on. I have also suggested that the parent teachers association of each and every school be given a larger role in the administration of the school and an active hand in all that contributes to the success of the children, and that it should be mandatory for at least one parent to be a member of the board for the duration of their child's school career for obvious reasons. Involved parents motivate children. It's as simple as that. Parents in the 'know' tend to spur their children's performance and the children, driven as it were to perform, end up succeeding due to refocused energy and effort.
Reward the teachers. Yes teaching is a calling and yes no one is supposed to become a teacher as a pathway to riches, but I am yet to understand why that logic is used as a reason to prevent us using the tried and proven methods for achieving success. Teachers are the front line of our national development, yet we treat them with the scantest of regard and this needs to change.
I have again suggested on numerous occasions that teachers' salaries should reflect both the level of their own education and the performance of their students. If all teachers earned the same we would in fact be working against ourselves, basing our reward system on the least success achieved and effort expended. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't our teachers get financial and other bonuses based on the holistic development and performance of their charges?
Tied directly to discipline and scholastic achievement, the schools would then become an environment of forward looking healthy competition aimed at the development of the children as an end result. Teachers who further their own skills set should receive compensation commensurate with their knowledge, understanding that it is more important to spur learning in a learning environment than it is to create a one size fits all designed to fail.
Long serving teachers need also to be rewarded, and the achievement of principal status should be treated with as a position of national respect and I would even go so far as to suggest that school principals be awarded the same sort of 'tax free' status that senators and other public officials enjoy.
No other group has the ability to directly impact and shape society like our teachers do, and if anyone should be seen driving a fancy foreign automobile it should be a teacher, achieved on a lifetime of hard work moulding our nation one person at a time.
Of course this is a condensation of a much larger idea but I hope that the basic point is made, that if we wanted to retool our education system and school environment to produce functional, contributing members of society we could. And based on the alternative, I’m not sure why we wouldn't want to.