The shooting of the Director of School of the Nations, Dr Brian O’Toole, has sparked debate about safety, parents’ responsibilities, guns and social media discussions, and violence in schools. While this is not the first time there has been a report of threat of violence and more so, violence in school, it is certainly the first time that a principal has been shot.
According to media reports, mere hours before being shot, O’Toole had a meeting with parents at the school following a social media post by an expelled student threatening to shoot persons at the school. The increase in violence among our youth is cause for great concern. The fact that a gun was used is another reality: young people will unfortunately toy with harmful things. As has been called for before by this publication, the Education Ministry will have to be more innovative to derive mechanisms to build capacity among teachers so that they can be able to spot any possible sign of violent and destructive behaviour among students. Schools have been hard-pressed to find workable solutions to the various manifestations of the problem, which, for some time, has emerged as a major distraction from the traditional business of schooling.
There have been numerous accounts of the level of deviant behaviour occurring in schools. Teachers have long voiced their concerns in relation to their sense of powerlessness in the face of the increasing number and severity of the incidents which are occurring.
Teachers have noted that our children at astonishingly low levels in the system are demonstrating unprecedented levels of anger and aggression. In consultations aimed at finding possible solutions, many teachers have attributed the new rules limiting the use of corporal punishment in schools as a major contributory factor.
Others have cited the absence of the male presence in schools as another significant element. There has been widespread recognition that our schools lack the requisite human and material resources to adequately take on this new challenge. Once again, it will not be easy given the innovativeness of those involved. That aside, there must be some signs including changes in students’ behavioural pattern and performances. The teachers will need to be supported in this process and it may very well demand a relooking of policies at a higher level for the implementation of effective combating mechanisms. This would need some urgency given that some young people, who represent the future, are involved. It will take the involvement of all – parents, teachers, the Education Ministry and law enforcement.
There is no doubt that the guidance counsellors, school welfare officers and social workers who serve the system are in short supply. As a result, the bulk of the responsibility for dealing with this new challenge falls back on the teachers themselves—a source of great resentment on the part of teachers.
Teachers have maintained that the nucleus of the issue is not within the school system and have openly declared that they should not, therefore, be saddled with the responsibility of addressing same. In addition, they highlight the fact that they lack the training and specialised skills required to adequately deal with the emerging challenges.
Schools have traditionally been and are expected to be safe, nurturing environments. Theoretically, it is even argued that our schools have a responsibility to compensate for the failings of the communities they serve.
On Monday, the parents of students of School of the Nations declared that they do not feel safe to have their children at school, forcing the institution to close its doors until better security systems are in place. This in itself is cause for alarm and distress.
As this newspaper has said, time and time before, there is no quick-fix in relation to the issue of violence in schools and both short- and long-term sustainable interventions will be needed, integrating a number of different social and governmental agencies.
The matter of violence in school needs comprehensive and collective effort that will facilitate the development of balanced, well-adjusted youths with positive outlooks on life. Ultimately, the quality of life we experience going forward will depend significantly on the steps we take to address the challenges facing our children today.