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Send message of zero tolerance to bullying

Published: 
Friday, March 10, 2017
An illustration of bullying in school

Mr Garcia has considerable experience as an educator at the primary and secondary levels, so he should share his knowledge of these matters to dispel growing concerns about safety in the nation’s schools.

The incident on Tuesday at a school in central Trinidad comes just over a month after the one on February 1 in which a nine-year-old Mayaro boy was beaten on the playground of his school in an attack so serious that he suffered a broken arm and had to undergo surgery. There was also another worrying incident at a San Fernando secondary school in which a student was knocked unconscious and suffered memory loss.

It is not just that these three incidents occurred within a short space of time but that in every instance ministry and school officials have been very economical with the facts. Also, there is no evidence of action being taken to improve safety at schools since then.

In the latest incident, the father of the injured pupil is claiming his eight-year-old son was attacked by an alleged bully and it was not an isolated incident. He claims the alleged bully often goes after his son’s snacks and the school principal’s response would be to talk to the aggressor, offering him snacks in an apparent attempt to calm him down.

Further, an official of the school claims the alleged bully was referred to the ministry’s behavioural psychologist since 2015 and was, at the time of the latest attack, under supervisional watch when he slipped away and managed to inflict severe damage on a fellow pupil. However the school official—adopting the same position as the minister—insists the injury was sustained during a game of police and thief.

Hopefully the further investigation promised by Mr Garcia will bring more clarity to the situation, although that will not be sufficient to ease the anxieties of parents across the country.

Details of this latest incident meet some of the criteria of bullying—hostile intent, repetition and distress but even if, as is being claimed by Mr Garcia and school officials, the boy was injured as a result of rough play gone wrong, that is also cause for concern and should have prompted swift intervention.

All children in T&T’s school system are entitled to a safe learning environment, so the onus is on Mr Garcia and the technocrats in his ministry to ensure that measures are introduced to ensure just that. Whether the problem is bullies or children with a propensity for rough play, there should be immediate action by the Student Support Services (SSS) Division, not just at the schools where the incidents took place, but across the board.

Bullying can have long lasting psychological and emotional consequences for victims and perpetrators, so even the hint of it taking place in a public school should trigger a firm response,

A clear message needs to be sent of zero tolerance for bullying and other violent behaviour in T&T’s schools. In addition, more teachers, students and parents should be involved in anti-bullying efforts, starting at the level of pre-schoolers at ECCE centres across the country.

Mr Garcia, who just a few months ago was claiming success in reducing violence in schools, must be seen to be dealing firmly and decisively with these recent incidents before something even worse happens.

It is not just that these three incidents occurred within a short space of time but that in every instance ministry and school officials have been very economical with the facts. Also, there is no evidence of action being taken to improve safety at schools since then.