Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, unavailable on Thursday to journalists reporting news of yet more incidents of violence involving schoolchildren in uniform, chose her party’s public meeting in Barataria to deliver scripted comfort to the nation.
To do so, the minister quoted a February 2023 survey, presumably conducted by public servants in her ministry, looking at indiscipline in schools from April 2022—when schools reopened fully post-lockdowns—up to, again presumably, February of this year. From that survey—unnamed and unpublished—she revealed that out of 200,000 or so pupils in the school system, only 142 had been suspended three or more times.
Those errant pupils were from 47 schools out of 819. Six of those 47 schools are primary and 41 are secondary, she said. While she delivered a brief, bullet-point analysis of how the pandemic lockdown of schools contributed to the deterioration in behaviour of children and parents, it is uncertain whether that was part of the same survey she mentioned.
The objective of Dr Gadsby-Dolly’s address was twofold. She set out to account for the annual $5 billion public expenditure by her ministry, and to counter public outrage at the problem of school violence believed to be pervasive, longstanding, getting worse, and is uninterrupted by the various initiatives and best intentions of the ministry she leads.
The comfort she attempted to communicate was interrupted not only by the tassa-accompanied arrival of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley during her presentation, but also by the fact that the minister chose to speak where she could not have been interrogated. What is this survey of which she speaks, and why has it not been made public? What else does the survey say? How many pupils are first-time and second-time offenders in the 819 schools, and are there increasing numbers of violent incidents reported by schools now than before?
Are the pupils in the most recent videos among those 147 she mentioned? If not, are they among the first- and second-time offenders? If that is also not so, are they all new applicants for the survey sample?
In seeking to bring some hope to the public, the minister sought instead to minimise a problem that the public knows, intuitively, to be a national one. Violence expressed by schoolchildren is a subset of youth violence—a visibly significant social problem. In turn, the problem of youth violence is a subset of violence more generally in the society. Saying that a survey said 0.0007 per cent of pupils have been suspended three or more times does not match the public’s knowledge of indiscipline and violence in schools, their experience of youth violence, and the widespread public fear and loathing of wanton criminality.
We agree with the minister that the situation demands conflict resolution and mediation strategies, and that pupils are “unsettled” upon their return to physical schooling after 24 months of solely online interaction. We sympathise with her effort to offer some relief to the society whose legs are collectively buckling under the weight of violent misconduct. We would suggest that hope must reside in reality, and that addressing a problem begins with not minimising it.