Reflecting on our deans

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly -
Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly -

THE POSITION of dean in the secondary school system is absolutely critical to the smooth and effective functioning of the school given their dual roles of curriculum delivery (in their respective subject areas) and pastoral care.

The marked increase in the levels of violence and indiscipline within recent times in our school system has inadvertently made the task of being a dean quite onerous to the point of frustrating and even overwhelming.

In providing curriculum and career guidance to students, deans are forced to unravel the myriad of psycho-social issues that impact negatively on students’ academic performance. Treating with these issues is often time-consuming and requires the support and involvement of fellow teachers, parents, as well as external agencies all working in tandem.

In addition to the wide range of students’ social deficits deans are challenged to confront in their quest to assist them in improving their overall academic performance, what has been evident in the past few years is the exponential increase in the number of students requiring such support, especially post-pandemic.

Dysfunctional behaviours that are inimical to student success at school has seen a sharp increase and deans are forced to lead the charge in correcting offending behaviours.

While the typical day of a dean may begin with the routine of enforcing basic school rules and getting students to conform to the schedule of the school day, the issues of bullying, fighting, inappropriate behaviours, truancy, absenteeism, drug and substance abuse emerge as routine agenda items within the early sessions of the school day, setting the tone for the rest of the day.

Treating with these issues usually involves extensive investigations that are extremely laborious and done sometimes at the expense of curriculum delivery.

Given the existing code of conduct for students and the legal framework that defines the role and function of teachers, extreme caution must be taken in determining the interventions deployed in addressing these dysfunctional behaviours. The average dean must now be competent in the areas of conflict resolution and counselling in the execution of their duties.

Interpersonal conflicts, especially among female students, seem to have assumed new proportions, with basic disagreements and skirmishes rapidly escalating into threatening and intimidating language, bullying and verbal and physical violence. Posts on social media usually play a significant role in the initiation and escalation of these conflicts.

This is in addition to monitoring the academic progress of approximately 200 students and rendering adequate guidance in tandem with form and subject teachers, such as time management as a student, appropriate study skills and career guidance.

While the preponderance of these issues may vary according to school type, the average dean in the secondary school system can give similar testimonials of massive social deficits spearheaded by intolerance and disrespect among our school population, indicating a much deeper social challenge facing the national community which must be addressed with urgency.

Outstanding among the observations of deans and school officials in treating with these dysfunctional behaviours is the lack of accountability on the part of parents for their children’s behaviours. Their overemphasis on rights devoid of responsibilities is usually always glaring.

Today’s parents have embraced a new social order that justifies behavioural traits that were once considered morally reprehensible, such as selfishness, dishonesty and disrespect for authority.

Many parents defend offensive behaviours displayed by their children, often refusing to take appropriate steps to change their parenting style or modify their children’s offending behaviours. Attempts at behaviour modification at school are sometimes met with accusations of discrimination and even attempts to reprimand school officials.

When taken in its totality, schools are now being called upon to perform parenting functions without the legal authority. While it is heartening to see intervention measures yield success in many cases, resulting in improvements in student behaviours and academic performance, it is also painful to see the number of students that are beyond reach owing to factors outside the control of the school.

Fortunately, many of our deans continue to persevere, oftentimes against the odds, and driven by a passion and social conscience that defines a moral obligation to seek to make a positive difference in the lives of all vulnerable children.

While deans are merely one cog in the complex wheel that is the school, the herculean efforts of our deans must be saluted and encouraged. Without them many children may never stand a chance to succeed. A needs analysis may determine an expansion in the number of positions of deans along with other support personnel.


"Reflecting on our deans"

More in this section