Bullying in schools

The Education Ministry is seeking to address violence in schools even as we continue to see videos circulating on social media of our young children indulging in gravely undisciplined behaviour.
Only one day ago, the Education Ministry had said it had cause to investigate a physical assault of a female student at the Queenstown Secondary School. This, however, was done after the circulation of a video recording that surfaced on social media showing five other school girls slapping and bullying a 13-year-old girl of the same school. Unsurprisingly, other students from the same school cheered the bullies on as they carried out the intimidating act.
The fortified position taken by the Education Ministry for mandatory counselling, suspension and transfer of these bullies must be commended. In its statement on the matter, the ministry said: “The Ministry of Education is committed to safe and supportive learning spaces for all students. It’s imperative that schools continue to prioritize the well-being and safety of their students, fostering an inclusive and respectful community where every individual feels valued and protected. It is equally important that these values be taught and enforced in homes across the country.”
Sometime ago, a columnist for this publication, in one of her columns, had asked the question if we are indeed surprised at this stark reality in many of our schools, when violence surrounds young people of varying ages on our streets, on our television screen, on game consoles, on our phones, in our neighbourhoods, and, for too many, even in our homes.
To help curb this escalating situation, which has existed for years and has been hard to get under control, the Education Ministry is continuing in schools its campaigns on bullying and any other undisciplined behaviour.
In some schools in the USA, metal detectors are common as sometimes is the presence of a police patrol on the outskirts. Some may be tempted to ask why, in a country that is rich and is the bastion of freedom and democracy. Others may counter that exactly because of what the country represents, it can afford to have such mechanisms in place. The answer basically lies in trying to curb violence in schools.
Violence in schools is not confined there, and is prevalent in many other places. In Guyana, we have, in the past, seen a collaboration between the Guyana Police Force and the Education Ministry wherein random searches were conducted at schools for potential weapons. Surprisingly, screwdrivers, knives, scissors and toy guns were found during some of these random searches.
An important aspect of the Education Ministry’s collaboration with the police is that the partnership involves discussion on topics of violence, crime committed at schools, gang fighting, offensive weapons, and, significantly, consequences.
Who would have thought that, in the process of getting an education here in Guyana, safety in schools would have become a primary concern?
Solace must not be taken in living in a changing world. Violence, over the years, and its extensive coverage through the media have led to seeming immunity to the gory images, and now make for casual reading.
This must not be allowed to slip into the mindsets of students and teachers. They must be free from such psychological stress, and be able to focus on learning in order to build much-needed capacity for the future of the country. All have an integral role to play in helping to repel this scourge.
While there may be compelling arguments over what may be the reasons why students act the way they do, and the spread of violence, immediate mitigating measures have to be derived and implemented.
Many have argued that parents and guardians need to be more involved and aware of what their children are doing, keeping an eye on any possible worrying signs. While that could still be effective in many ways, there is a challenge as the child approaches adulthood. At that stage, one’s space and privacy could present barriers. There are also social factors that contribute to disallowing such necessary interventions to some extent, which further complicates an already complicated situation.
We support the ministry when on Thursday it reiterated its disapproval of violence in schools as it aims to ensure that “students can learn in a safe and conducive environment.”
The ministry should not hold back its hand on students who breach the Maintenance of Order and Discipline Policy in school, which includes expulsion, suspension, and mandatory psychosocial counselling. We commend the ministry for the quick and tough position it has taken in this most recent incident.