The intensity and frequency of violence in schools have turned the prevailing thinking regarding corporal punishment on its head. The current fad is an overwhelming concern for the well-being of students, to the point where their own potential for violence against adults, particularly teachers, seems to have taken a back seat.
Remarkably, it is not the usually expected male against male violence, but the incidents of student violence against teachers have taken a new direction, with female students’ assaults against female teachers apparently on the increase.
The incidents of school-age youth violence are becoming pervasive, so much so that serious interventions are necessary in the short to medium term. In short, we all have an unswerving duty to ensure that our young people and their teachers are provided with the opportunities to become productive citizens in a school environment free from fear. Parents need to feel confident about not only their children’s safety in school, and on their journeys to and from school; but they must show consideration for the safety of teachers.
Using a multi-sectoral approach, a carefully designed and well-run programme can be adopted from among the implementable short term measures. Such a broad-based multi-stakeholder arrangement could provide the type of positive influences for young people who may not have a good support system readily available to them. With the proliferation of trained social workers coming out of university, there is no acceptable reason why one could not be placed in each school to attend to students’ concerns on security and welfare issues.
At the 48th Convocation of the University of Guyana, a total of seventy-three social workers graduated with diplomas and degrees. Placement within the public school system is surely not outside the competence and imagination of the relevant authorities.
Utilising the professional skills of social workers in association with a mentorship arrangement which speaks to guidance and counselling could prove invaluable. They can provide the necessary supervision and support to face challenges associated with schoolwork; social issues, such as pressure to drink, smoke, or use drugs; family problems or tension; and other typical difficulties of growing up.
In other words it is important that the extra support that many young people need is available to assist them to resist the strong influences of peer pressure and the temptation to be deviant.
The case for the placement of social workers in schools is further established by the fact that the daily presence puts the professional in a position of knowing the students with problems and those who are problems. However, it would be most unrealistic and unfortunate to expect the social worker to supplant the parent or guardian. Neither should the authorities anticipate dramatic changes in attitudes towards authority figures, self-esteem or school attendance and behaviour. Mutual trust will have to be earned and gained if the solutions to the issues facing students and teachers are to be sustainable. The multi-sector methodology, with the inclusion of the private sector and its corporate social responsibility for the quality of the future workforce, can definitely be enhanced through advocacy and material support for a revitalised and relevant schools’ system with a focus on improved student performance; attendance; increased student retention; and positive student behaviour change.
In the longer term, changes will have to be made to schools’ curricula to include violence prevention initiatives focused on pro life skills, peace culture and conflict resolution techniques, with the target audience comprising both students and teachers. Because of certain ingrained social and cultural orientations, transformation in the system and modes of behaviour will not be easy, and therefore there should be consistency in the approach to promoting good behaviour across the board.
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