Guest editorial

The first thing that should be said about physical and/or verbal “retaliatory measures” by parents against teachers perceived to have punished or otherwise wronged their children during the course of in-school interaction is that it is, under any conceivable circumstance, altogether unacceptable. It is for the Ministry of Education, of course, to put measures in place that would, as far as possible, protect teachers from that kind of harm both on and off school premises, whilst they are in the course of executing their professional responsibilities. There should be no debating those axioms.

When proven acts of violence by parents against teachers occur, the Ministry of Education, the police and the legal system, should be at one in moving to apply the harshest penalties allowable under the law. The simple fact is that parents’ violent reprisals against teachers perceived to have “wronged” their children creates a condition of upheaval in the school system. There can be no justification for such occurrences. No after-the-fact apologies by subsequently sobered-up parents should be accepted for the physical or verbal abuse of teachers. There should be strong penalties for such attacks in any shape or fashion that target teachers.

Lest we be misunderstood it should be made clear that teachers too have responsibilities which include living within the rules insofar as sanctioning children is concerned. They too must be mindful that they live within the limits of the law, so to speak.

It would be a good thing if, for a change, the ministry of education could use an undesirable occurrence, such as, it appears, occurred at the Winfer Gardens Primary school in Georgetown, Guyana, last week, to seek, immediately, to put remedial measures in place. Violence against teachers by irate parents or at least unseemly verbal exchanges, are sufficiently prevalent to have, by now, caused some sort of assertive and embedded response from the Ministry. Security at schools may be one of the issues here.

Parents visiting schools ostensibly to address matters relating to the alleged or perceived mistreatment of children by their teachers should have to follow certain protocols. For example, on-premises security protocols at schools should not allow for a teacher deemed by parents or guardians to have mistreated their child to be the first point of contact with those parents/guardians when they arrive at those schools “on a high” so to speak.

Schools have head teachers who are effectively heads of administration and it is not to the credit of the ministry of education that the on-premises protocols, including the extant security arrangements (or lack thereof) allow for “worked up” parents to come into direct contact with teachers who may well be the immediate targets of their outrage.

Enough has been said, mind you, without us making it clear that no assumptions are being made in this editorial regarding just what occurred at Winfer Gardens Primary School last Wednesday. We are, however, concerned that over time, targeted assaults on teachers by irate parents have become sufficiently prevalent for there to be created procedures that provide a higher level of in-school protection for teachers.

The law, furthermore, should, as a matter of course, deal condignly with parents who assault teachers for reasons associated with the perceived mistreatment of their children, whatever the nature of the alleged teacher transgressions. Here again, it is the ministry of education that should be pressing for the legal protection of its teachers.

The Winfer Gardens incident is one of those instances where quick, decisive and comprehensive action might well serve to help stave off what could become an ominous threat to the stability of our school system as a whole. Contextually, we must wait and see whether the ministry of education can be held to its word, given us by assistant chief education officer Carol Benn that it would “act and act swiftly” in the Winfer Gardens instance.

Here, the ministry’s promise to “act swiftly” has to go beyond ‘settling’ this particular matter and moving on. Whether or not there should be some kind of compensatory entitlement (following the most careful probe, of course) for teachers who suffer physical injury at the hands of parents/guardians arising out of incidents that occur in the course of the execution of their duties is certainly a consideration that should be taken on board. This may be a point for the ministry of education and the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) to probe, between them, going forward.

That, however, ought to be just one facet of a wider collective contemplation involving Parent/Teacher Associations groups, as well and which lead quickly and directly to the introduction of clear, policy-based measures and protocols relating to engagements between schools and parents in matters pertaining to children, with a particular concern for the physical protection of teachers but which, at the same time, takes full account of parents’ concerns. That is a responsibility that the Ministry of Education would be well-advised to act upon without delay.

The Winfer Gardens incident has, understandably, aroused pretty strong feelings amongst some teachers. In one particular instance the question has arisen as to whether parents of school-age children ought not to be bound by rules that pay particular attention to the modalities of teacher/parent interaction. Here again, it is for the ministry of education to lead the way in determining the way forward.

Long before the Winfer Gardens incident occurred, however, the issue had arisen as to whether the ministry of education ought not to have a right to withdraw its obligation to provide tuition to children whose parents have been known to be rowdy, verbally hostile and physically menacing towards teachers. It is pretty much the same as asking whether teachers, in the course of applying disciplinary measures in the discharge of their duties, ought not to enjoy the best protection that can be afforded from parent aggression, physical or verbal. That too, is a question that the Ministry of Education must seek to address and answer definitively.

—Courtesy Stabroek News

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