Media won't let us forget school violence
Posted By: News
Date: 24, January 04, at 9:12 a.m.
Education Minister Hazel Manning:
Media won't let us forget school violence
By CHARLEEN THOMAS, Newsday TT
IN THE face of growing alarm about school violence, Education Minister Hazel Manning yesterday asserted that it was "very normal at this time of year." But she admitted that she didn't know why this was so, and suggested there may be a decrease in violent acts compared to previous years.
The minister was speaking to reporters following her address at a workshop for secondary school principals on "Defining operational pathways for School Based Management (SBM)," at the Cascadia Hotel, St Ann's. On Thursday, there were several reports of violent acts involving school children both in West and Central Trinidad. Asked for her reaction to the violence, Manning said, "It is very normal at this time of the year as the children would tell you themselves and the teachers. It is normal." Why normal at this time? She said, "Why at this time, maybe Carnival, I don't really know but it is normal at this time of the year that's why we asked the community police to get involved since last year. As a matter of fact, what you are seeing maybe reduced (to previous years) and then it will die as exams come closer."
Manning said her ministry was painfully aware of the "tension, indiscipline and violence in our school system and the national community and the newspapers would not let us forget it." She explained that in addition to the introduction of "school wardens," there is a proposal to introduce "a bio/psycho/social programme known as the Student Support Unit" in schools. She explained that it will put guidance officers in every school, school social workers in every district with diagnostic and prescriptive officers attached." She said the proposal will be taken to Cabinet in "two to three weeks." Manning said the intention is to be "more pro-active" and look after the prevention of problems. "The officers will be put right through the system, from early childhood to secondary level, so if a child is having problems early, they will be able to connect with the homes and identify what is wrong, why that child is angry, and offer support." Manning said there have been no support systems in place to help children manage their anger and expressed optimism that the proposal will "work because it has worked in other countries." She said there are plans to also expand the curriculum in the new school year to include non-academic subjects for those so inclined.
The minister said it will take about two months to put "school wardens" in schools as it is yet to do job specifications and place advertisements. She said at least two wardens will be placed first at high risk schools before determining if more are needed. She stressed that the wardens are to develop a security plan for the school and make recommendations on improving security. Wardens must be trained in security management and will also include retired members of the protective services. She said the reason for the introduction of wardens was due to the fact that "it was a bit problematic for the teachers to implement a lot of the programmes we were putting in place." But she assured that in the interim, the ministry will continue to have community police officers at the schools. Manning said there was no intention to increase the number of officers based at the various schools, because some schools were already requesting that the officers were not needed since the children had "settled." The minister added that the zero-tolerance approach will continue to be the mechanism used to deal with violent students. She said that was the reason why children were being suspended and taken to court, "because we can't leave them there to disrupt the whole school." Asked if corporal punishment would be reintroduced to help curb violence at the schools, Manning said no, adding that the ministry will issue a statement on that matter soon.
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