Danger of downplaying school indiscipline

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly. FILE PHOTO -
Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly. FILE PHOTO -

At a PNM public meeting in Barataria on Thursday night, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly attempted to downplay incidents of school indiscipline and violence.

She noted that out of 891 schools surveyed in February, only 47 schools reported students who were suspended three or more times since the return to in-person teaching in 2022.

Dr Gadsby-Dolly isn't the first education minister to try to downplay incidents of school violence. In 2017, Anthony Garcia, then the minister of education, also insisted that videos circulated online were giving an inaccurate picture of indiscipline in schools. The Education Minister's 2022 statistics were meant to allay concerns about the school system, but the numbers raise more questions.

A total of 142 students, out of the school population of 200,000, were suspended three times, the Education Minister noted, while each year, 20,000 students are referred to School Support Services.

For one thing, 20,000 students are one tenth of the entire school population, and expecting 800 assigned personnel to effectively manage that workload seems hopeful. What percentage of these cases require follow-up?

Student Support Services is where school incidents end up when they exceed the capabilities of teachers and principals, or when incidents encompass issues that lie outside the scope of the classroom.

And simply saying that 142 students were suspended three times from 47 schools doesn't explain very much. Are there schools with clusters of incidents that demand special attention? How many students have been suspended twice? Two-time suspensions are likely to indicate issues that may be as serious as those involving three-time offenders. Identifying problems clearly is the first step to managing them and obfuscating the issue by disclosing selective statistics doesn't do enough to mobilise a remedial effort that responds to the problem.

It doesn't help that efforts at engaging students with discipline and learning issues have tended to be both sporadic and ad hoc. The minister's remedial classes for underperforming students seeks to address part of the problem with admirable decisiveness, but the value of the initiative is still to be evaluated.

In May 2022, the Education Minister noted that the ministry wants to go beyond multiple suspensions in supporting at-risk children, but there has been no articulation of a strategy that goes beyond removal from the school system to actively address the kind of developmental and social problems that lead to multiple suspensions. It simply isn't enough to call on parents when the evidence of repeated infractions suggests that weaknesses in the family might be contributing to the problem. If that's an issue, it should be planned for and managed, but teachers can't be expected to do that job.

An effective social intervention to address teenage school indiscipline must be designed to acknowledge all aspects of the social problem and offer solutions that engage and remediate even the most wayward child.


"Danger of downplaying school indiscipline"

More in this section