Tivoli Gardens High School incident a crucial teaching moment
A screengrab from a video circulating on social media which shows a 16-year-old Tivoli Gardens High School student in a physical altercation with a teacher.

It’s not just all-too-frequent reports of students fighting teachers and each other — resulting in the death of at least one student back in March — that triggers alarm for Jamaicans.

There are also disturbing stories of verbal disrespect for authority figures in schools.

Of course, such behaviour is not new. Indiscipline in Jamaican schools is long-standing, reflective of disorder and lawlessness among adults.

We dare not forget that for a long time, bad behaviour was held aloft by some, in defence of the abhorrent practice of corporal punishment, which, thankfully, is now frowned on at all official levels in Jamaica’s education system.

We strongly suspect too, that the explosion of cheap, easy-to-handle, audio-visual technologies now embedded in cellular phones has added to the debilitating sense of students being out of control.

Please do not get us wrong. We are by no means suggesting that indiscipline isn’t worsening. However, in times past, fights and other serious incidents in school were often resolved at the local level with most people none the wiser.

Nowadays, such incidents are relayed to the wider world via social media in seconds — exacerbating the perception of chaos and disorder and heightening stress levels for teachers, school leaders, other staff, students and the wider community.

We feel for the Tivoli Gardens High School community in the aftermath of this week’s traumatising incident in which, we are told, a teacher’s attempt to take control of her class led to assault by a 16-year-old who was gambling.

We hear that the teacher required medical treatment and her alleged assailant has been formally charged.

Such incidents lead to unfortunate responses. We have no patience for those who suggest that indisciplined students should simply be left to their own devices; or, at the other extreme, that teachers should be prepared for all-out battle or ‘war’ with students.

Schools can’t be allowed to descend into anarchy, nor should they become battlefields between students and teachers.

It seems to us that at the bottom line for all schools there must be an entrenched disciplinary code — regardless of the school’s geographic and/or social circumstance — established by school leadership, in line with guidance from the Ministry of Education.

That disciplinary code should be made available to, and should be understood by all those with an interest: students, teachers, all staff, parents, community and the nearest police station. And there must be consequences, swift and just, for indiscipline.

We note word from the police that in the case of Tivoli Gardens High there had been behavioural concerns for some time. We are told that there had been failed efforts to meet with school leadership.

Obviously, had all parties known then what they now know, that much-delayed meeting would have happened.

We also hear that the Ministry of Education knew nothing of the behavioural challenges at Tivoli Gardens High. It’s good that the ministry’s School Safety and Security Unit has now met with the school’s teachers and guidance counsellors. Better late than never, we think.

It seems to us that the unfortunate incident at Tivoli Gardens High represents an important teaching and learning opportunity for the Ministry of Education, school leaders, parents, all those affiliated to schools in their communities, the police and indeed, all of us.

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