|Violence Prevention Academy, one of many strategies |
By ESTHER LE GENDRE Minister of Education Monday, September 22 2008
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Your editorial of Wednesday 17 raises some questions that are appropriate and deserving of a response that seeks to clarify some of the issues raised in the interest of your readers.
The Trinidad and Tobago Violence Prevention Academy is but one of many strategies being employed by the Ministry to address the issue of violence and indiscipline in our schools. Based on research and studies conducted since 1999, a number of programmes have been implemented with varying degrees of success. These include but are not limited to the adoption of physical security measures to secure schools, the employment of security guards and more recently the introduction of safety officers in Government Secondary Schools. We have also adopted more high-tech approaches such as electronic surveillance.
Along with these measures we have partnered with community based organisations to inculcate a culture of peace in our schools, to provide alternative programmes for troubled students. We have established a Student Support Services Division which continues to expand to manage student issues that have roots in both home and community. We have explored non-violent approaches to conflict resolution.
The TTVPA hopes to achieve its goal by trying something which, while fairly common in schools in the US and Canada, has not previously been tried here. This programme, led by Dr Charles Katz, is supported by a number of experts in the field of violence prevention. The Violence Prevention Academy brings together school-based safety officers, teachers and administrators to develop comprehensive integrated and evidence-based violence prevention plans tailored to the specific needs of schools. It recognises that a one size fit all approach cannot be applied to situations that differ from school to school.
The Academy is structured into four specific components implemented over a six month period to include a training programme that imparts the school-based team with skills to analyse the causes of any violence or indiscipline in their respective schools and to design solutions that may range from specialist intervention by school guidance counsellors and psychologists, sessions with parents, better patrol of far-flung areas of a large school or activities that grow school pride and values. Participants will learn to create, implement and evaluate their own school-based violence prevention plans.
Recognising that one of the preventable causes of indiscipline in schools and later violent behaviour in and out of school is illiteracy, the Ministry has established a Centre of Excellence for Teacher Training (CETT) to alleviate problems of illiteracy by focusing on pupils from Infant Year Two to Standard Two. It seeks to ensure that best practices are employed in the teaching of Reading and provides training in the teaching of Reading to make every teacher competent to teach reading. Currently CETT is operational in 61 Primary schools and this number is expected to increase to 200 centres in 2008/09. Daily reading activity remains on the curriculum of all primary schools.
A comprehensive system of support is in place to address barriers to learning and reduce violence and indiscipline. The Ministry provides free social support programmes that have grown over the years — meals, textbooks and transportation.
Teacher absenteeism is an issue. We address this in part by a teacher substitution programme which deals with legitimate absences. Within the past year we have moved, with the support of the Teaching Service Commission with who we share a responsibility for the staffing of schools, to fill a number of vacancies.
To date, at the secondary school level, 360 Deans and 429 Heads of Departments have been appointed. Additionally, 261 Senior Teachers and 163 Heads of Departments have been placed in our primary schools. School governance has been enhanced with the establishment of school boards and student councils in all government-operated secondary schools.
Twenty two Government Secondary Schools will also implement a pilot programme with the appointment of two Vice Principals to strengthen administration of these schools, one dedicated to curriculum implementation and one to administration.
The Ministry is pleased to have indicated at Monday’s Launch that a number of the recommendations offered by the Committee on Violence and Indiscipline are already in various stages of implementation over the years.
Nevertheless we recognise that partners in education and community stakeholders may often provide an opportunity for objective assessment and may have solutions worth trying because they too have a stake and a responsibility.
Our efforts to manage violence and indiscipline are ongoing as the school population changes, society changes, cellphones proliferate where they were virtually non existent in schools in the 80’s; everyday our schools are impacted by the external community.
What we do therefore is to continue to work with the community, churches, mosques, mandirs, NGO’s and CBO’s to grapple with a problem the world also grapples with, unfortunately — and to employ tried and tested solutions such as the one offered by the Arizona State University’s Centre for the Prevention of Violence and Indiscipline and the promotion of Community Safety.