Thirty-five schools nationwide where students have been exhibiting violent or indisciplined behaviour have been “hot-listed” for action by the Education Ministry.
The schools—mainly secondary institutions—are listed in a report by the ministry which was laid in the Senate yesterday.
The ministry did the report based on the findings and recommendations contained in the first Report of Parliamentary Committee inquiring into the current level of violence among students in schools. Particular focus was paid to physical and cyber-bullying.
The committee had made wide-ranging recommendations, including on ensuring principals’ responsibilities, legislative arrangements to compel parents to visit a school to deal with students’ issues and facilitating student “whistle-blowers” concerning gangs.
But Education Minister Anthony Garcia said last night the number of affected schools was now closer to 25 rather than 35, since there has been a drastic decline in incidents.
“Some schools like Chaguanas North—which was one of the first where problems occurred—and Ste Madeleine Secondary have settled beautifully after having problems. We have 580 primary and secondary schools and the 35 in the report were places where students had in the past been exhibiting undesirable behaviour,” Garcia said.
“The president of the National Primary Schools Association has also agreed on the accuracy of our data on the drop in incidents,”
In the report, the five most “at-risk” schools in each of the seven school districts—between East, West, North, South—was identified. Schools were identified in the districts of Caroni, St George East, South Eastern, North Eastern, Port-of-Spain/Environs, Victoria and St Patrick. Tobago was not listed.
Also listed was the status of the implementation of programmes aimed at assisting these schools.
Several of the schools in the “at-risk” list have been at the centre of media reports about violence/indiscipline in schools. Most of the schools were listed as being in a phase of collating and analysing data on the behavioural problems.
Others had reached the stage of doing mock trials and youth dialogues.
A more detailed “Risk Profile” was completed by the ministry for districts of Caroni, North Eastern and Victoria.
The report stated the ministry has, while providing additional support to the at-risk schools, now expanded its programme beyond the identified at-risk schools to have all schools develop plans for addressing indiscipline.
Details of the ministry’s solutions and programmes were given in the report, including working with experts, specialists and national security agencies on the problem.
The ministry also implemented several recommendations from the Parliamentary Committee. Among them, a template for recording information on repeat offenders was created and piloted in the St George East district. As of January 2017, it was being used at all districts.
Students identified are referred to the Learning Enhancement Centre (LEC) managed by the ministry’s Student Support Services Division. Students are assessed and subject to targeted interventions.
LECs have been established in Caroni, St. George East, South Eastern and Victoria. But limited services are temporarily being provided to meet the needs of students in the Port-of-Spain district until a permanent venue is identified.
The Ministry is currently working towards proper accommodation and resources for LECs catering for secondary school students from which the vast majority of referrals are made.
The needs of the primary school students are met at the school level at this time.
In LEC’s, a student together with his/her parent is engaged in the screening process, followed by assessment.
Based on the findings, the student is then referred to the behavioural specialist or psychologist for further intervention if necessary.
The ministry said each of the 204 parents of the Caroni, Victoria, North Eastern and St. George East districts who had a child attending one of the LECs has been exposed to “Parenting In Education” workshops, home visits and counselling sessions.
The ministry also developed a National Strategy for Promoting Discipline at both primary and secondary school levels.
Implementation is being rolled out in the 20 primary and five 5 secondary schools involved in the Laventille School Improvement Project.
The ministry agreed with the committee’s recommendation that “the ability to effectively promote discipline in the school” be included as a criterion for assessing the performance of a principal.
In February, the Ministry of Education met with the National Security Ministry to discuss the issue of online pornography and other cyber offences that impact negatively on students at schools.
All electronic devices the ministry supplies to schools have been outfitted with firewalls and other protective mechanisms that prevent student access to certain sites. Currently, data involving the engagement of minors in online sexual activity is being collected by the Ministry of National Security.
The ministry is also working with the police and other agencies to sensitise students against gangs. Principals have been mandated to inform the police of criminal infractions committed by students - possession of drugs, weapons and engaging in sexual activity.
The committee recommended schools develop a whistle-blower mechanism through which students with information on gang activities and other delinquent activities can make anonymous reports to teachers.
The ministry was advised to explore possible legislative amendments required for making it compulsory for the parent(s) of a child to visit the school if the child is to be served a suspension notice or in other circumstances.
The ministry supported a recommendation that the Labour Ministry develop a policy of time-off for employees to attend PTA meetings.
The committee recommended the ministry consult the representative body for teachers to negotiate a revised condition of employment that would allow the ministry, at the end of the year, to deduct the monetary value of the cumulated time a teacher arrives late. Alternatively, a teacher’s punctuality record should be taken into consideration when he/she is being considered for a promotion
It was recommended the ministry host an annual meeting of denominational and government school principals to share experiences towards effectively addressing violence and indiscipline.
SOURCE: www.guardian.co.tt (Gail Alexander)