Educator concerned about declining school environment

An educator of 41 years is warning that the block and ghetto culture is taking over many of the island’s schools, with students as young as 12 on “a steady diet of marijuana” while their hunger for learning fades.

Principal Matthew Farley.
Principal Matthew Farley.

Outgoing principal of the Graydon Sealy Secondary School, Matthew Farley, raised the concern as he reported that school environments had become more hostile to teachers and principals, many of whom felt helpless to maintain control, and the police have had to be called in regularly to quell disturbances.

Addressing the St Lawrence Primary School graduation ceremony at the Accra Beach Hotel today, Farley said the parents of those troubled children had thrown their hands up in despair, leaving the education system to deal with their charges.

“There are 15 to 20 students in every secondary school who should not be in a mainstream school, because they defy the authority of teachers, of principals.

“Every day, my colleagues and I have to confront students between 12 and 16 who are on a steady diet of marijuana, who test as high as 200 and 300 and 400 and 900 nanograms per millimetre of urine. All we can do is send the students to the Edna Nicholls Centre for two weeks and they return to our schools and continue to feed themselves on marijuana, dose after dose,” he lamented.

“They are characterized by a violent aggression that drives fear in teachers, principals, security guards and everybody on the compound. Members of the Royal Barbados Police Force are called to many of our secondary schools regularly to . . . break up or avert fights and disturbances which may include weapons. Many teachers fear for their physical safety and for their property, as both male and female students threaten them to their faces that they would knock them down, shoot them, burn down their houses,” Farley added.

To support his point, he told the audience that two days ago he told a troublemaker at his school to hand over a cellular phone he was using “to bully first formers” and the boy not only refused but told him: “I is a different breed.”

Farley said that in spite of the best efforts by the Erdiston Teachers’ College, many teachers who come into primary and secondary schools are ill-equipped to handle these types               of students.

The principal, who will retire in August, also blamed parents for the problems facing the island’s children, saying that many of them paid no attention to what was happening to their sons and daughters in school.

He said while the majority of parents were “generally compliant and supportive of our schools”, the majority were not interested in Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) and “show little interest beyond what happens at the age of 11 and what happens at 16”.

“Many of our school-age girls are being sexually molested and ravished and robbed of their innocence at the hands of adults in their families and their communities. The repercussions of this show up in classrooms, and sometimes teachers are the only refuge to whom they have to turn. Very often mothers who should protect them are prepared to sacrifice their own flesh and blood on the altar of convenience and the almighty dollar,” Farley added.

While acknowledging that there were no quick fixes or any magic wand to wave the problems away, the long-standing educator made several suggestions that would lead to an improvement in the current state of affairs, including that: a counsellor and social worker be on staff at every primary school; each co-educational secondary school have two counsellors and ready access to social workers and psychologists beyond what is currently available; a second deputy principal be assigned to primary and secondary schools with rolls above 700; corporal punishment be retained as one of a range of behavioural management strategies alongside self-esteem-oriented building approaches; additional personnel, trained to deal with adolescents, be placed on school buses; and the establishment of an alternative, residential institution with psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers to accommodate students in every secondary school who are presenting major challenges to school management. 


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