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Tim: Help for frustrated principals

By Sasha Harrinanan Monday, January 6 2014

Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh says his ministry is doing its best to provide support for principals, teachers and students affected by violence and indiscipline in the nation’s schools.

“We are engaged in a multi-pronged approach, working closely with the Teaching Service Commission (TSC), to address the incidence of violence and indiscipline,” Gopeesingh said yesterday. “We are bringing on-board clinical and behavioural psychologists; they are being interviewed now. We have also instructed schools to form strong school-based management teams to address issues such as truancy and students’ behavioural problems.”

Speaking with Newsday, Gopeesingh noted that schools were informed more than three months ago of the need to establish these management teams, and should therefore have them in place for the start of the new term today.

Team members would include the principal, teacher and student representatives, a member of the student alumni, the parent-teacher association (PTA), local school boards as well as one of the ministry’s health and safety officers.

Gopeesingh was responding to questions based on concerns raised by president of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA), Davanand Sinanan, in yesterday’s Sunday Newsday.

Sinanan said many principals “spend more than half of the time dealing with indiscipline when they should be focusing on instructional leadership,” and the problem was most prevalent in secondary schools.

The Education Minister yesterday said the TSC is working to fill all vacant posts of Deans of Discipline and Heads of Departments so principals could once again focus on administrative and academic issues.

“School supervisors are working assiduously,” Gopeesingh added, “to resolve the truancy situation. The TSC and the ministry are also paying close attention to teacher punctuality and regularity, to ensure students have proper supervision and teaching time.”

In addition, secondary school principals have each been equipped with two hand-held scanners and random walk-in scans are being conducted at schools with a history of violence.

General Secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), Sat Maharaj, also spoke to Newsday about the issue.

He pointed out that most times, such events occur in public schools yet denominational schools are included in the broad-based reference to school-based violence and student indiscipline.

“There is a big difference in the level of discipline, quality of teaching and parent participation at our denominational schools. Recruitment is the key. Who is being recruited to teach at Government schools? I understand the TSC meets for half a day every Wednesday. How can they address the many teacher-related cases before them if they only meet once a week?”

Pointing out that hiring, disciplining and firing of teachers is the TSC’s prerogative, not that of the Education Minister, Maharaj called on the commission to extend its working hours and hire more commissioners.

“The quality of teachers in schools is an important factor in achieving discipline but the TSC doesn’t have the capacity right now to deal with the cases before it in a timely manner. This must be addressed if we are talking about reducing violence in schools,” Maharaj stated.

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