THE OFFER made recently by Elizabeth Montano, 73, to assist the State in dealing with expelled students by doing a special reading for and sharing her life lessons with them is commendable. This is the type of volunteerism we need more of. The Ministry of Education’s approach cannot simply be to ship problematic pupils off to quasi-military programmes and then hope for the best.
Ever since Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly on November 23 confirmed that the State’s policy of mandating expelled students to attend the Military Led Academic Training (Milat) programme is in effect, there has been, rightly, a degree of anxiety.
The policy confirmed by the Minister of Education is not new. It was approved by the Cabinet in September last year. However, some have questioned its legal basis. Others have looked beneath the formalities and questioned whether this approach sends the right signal. Are problematic students being consigned, effectively, to a penitentiary?
All these questions have taken on renewed urgency given a plethora of disturbing incidents at schools. The rate of expulsions has increased. Between last year and this year, they have tripled, rising from three to ten.
Such numbers are a drop in the bucket given all the education system must deal with. But one child is one child too many. The system’s rules send a profound message to students about the parameters of the world they exist within. As such, even students have taken note of the policy, which made an appearance in Monday’s sitting of the National Youth Parliament. Students there commended it as a way to fight crime.
It is clear the Ministry of Education is not completely washing its hands of problem students with its Milat policy. Part of the two-year programme’s curriculum involves certification by the National Training Agency, which falls under the aegis of the ministry.
Previously, there was concern expelled students would simply fall by the wayside, regardless of their prospect for rehabilitation and regardless of the duty of the State to see to their education.
Serious indiscipline must be met with serious consequences. Yet expulsion, and expulsion with no prospect of return, leaves a bitter aftertaste for all. When the system gives up on a child, what is to stop the child from giving up on themselves? Milat would offer a compromise.
However, speaking as she launched King of Soca, a biography of her son Machel, in Tobago, Ms Montano reminds us that the approach must be far wider and more collaborative. The many ups and downs of her own story and that of her famous child underscore the fact that students need values and resilience instilled in them from outside a syllabus.
The schools’ discipline matrix should be widened so that the approach goes well beyond Milat.