The behaviour was inexcusable, but the breakdown of discipline familiar. Just as we thought the problem of misbehaviour in classrooms was on the wane, video footage of bullying and assault at the Siparia West Secondary School emerged this month, reminding us once more of the need for parents to step up to the plate.
Students and their families can be seriously damaged in both the long and short run by acts of indiscipline. And over time, an increasing prevalence of deviance leads to falling standards nationally. The complete breakdown of order at Siparia West Secondary signals a more endemic problem. That problem is one of rampant indiscipline among our youth, wherever they may be housed.
The students who were involved in the appalling incidents captured on video last week have been suspended. But now what? Unless it is acknowledged that the causes of indiscipline are complex, then what happened in Siparia will happen again.
Parents and guardians must be urged to realise the vital role they play in bringing up their children. They cannot abdicate responsibility. It is the job of principals and teachers to educate. It is not the job of these officials to act as babysitters or to do what parents should be doing in the home.
To be a parent is not only to hold responsibility for one’s charges. It is to recognise that responsibility translates into a wider civic responsibility. The distressing experience of students and teachers who have been assaulted and bullied by rampaging students is testimony to the impact parents have through their children.
Men and women have a duty to be proactive in the home. They must inculcate the values children need in order to become fully functional adults. But while school officials should not be placed in a position whereby they shoulder undue responsibility, they too have a duty to effectively manage their precincts.
According to Chief Education Officer Harrilal Seecharan, the incidents at Siparia West Secondary took place during break and lunch periods. While there are clear guidelines in place for supervision at the school, there was a gap in earmarking people for supervision during lunch time and break time.
We agree with Minister of Education Anthony Garcia who has been clear that a big stick – and not a carrot – must be applied in this instance.
“They must face the full brunt of the law,” Garcia said at a media conference on Monday in Parliament. He called the actions of the students “nothing short of criminal behaviour” and also added that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley “was also incensed with what he saw.”
It is true that these children need to understand that their actions have consequences. Therefore, the law enforcement authorities must be allowed to conduct their investigation. However, that investigation must be completely independent. It should not have to contend with any hint that the matter is in some way tied to the personal views of people in high office. Therefore all officials involved in this matter must exercise caution in the nature of their public pronouncements going forward.
At the end of the day, the decision as to whether there should be charges or not is a matter that is always in the hands of the independent Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). That decision is one to be made as judiciously as possible by balancing evidence as well as relevant policy considerations that guide the Office of the DPP.
It should not be forgotten the State itself has been found in a High Court ruling to have violated the rights of minors via its incarceration facilities. We cannot ignore the compelling evidence which has suggested jail radicalises people for whom the primary intervention should be emotional, not just penal.
Which is why counselling needs to play an even greater role in our school system. Not just for the children, but also the parents who are failing them.