The St Agnes incident

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THE recent instances of teachers being assaulted by parents must be cause for much concern. Guyanese looking at the pictures and videos of parents physically assaulting teachers must ask ourselves some very serious questions. The recent incident at St Agnes Primary School comes less than two months after a similar incident at Winfer Gardens Primary. On both occasions the victim was female and in the most recent instance, the aggressor was a male. The Ministry of Education has announced that it has launched a probe into the St Agnes incident, while there are reports that the teacher in question has made a report to the police. To date nobody has been arrested.

While it is unclear what prompted the latest incident and persons must be deemed innocent until proven guilty, the very fact that persons entered a school building and a teacher was assaulted is enough evidence that something is radically wrong. There have always been isolated incidents of parents assaulting teachers, but in recent times there seems to be an increase of these reports. We must not wait until the problem reaches boiling point before we sound the warning bell. From all indications violence against teachers is fast becoming a serious problem that must be confronted now. This publication, therefore, lends its voice to the call on the authorities to become pro-active in defence of our teachers.

A school is a space where our children are nurtured and should be treated as such; violence has no place in such an environment. We know of the wanton violence in the larger society: everyday there are reports of gruesome violence, particularly against women and children. But the migration of such violence into our schools is more than worrisome. That parents and other citizens feel free to enter schools and engage in violence against teachers is an indication that the society is beginning to lose its shape. No society in the modern world can condone wanton violence against teachers. Assaults on teachers represent an attack on the very conscience of the nation.

This publication urges the Ministry of Education and the police force to instantly declare a zero-tolerance policy against such behaviour. We have seen enough in other societies to know that if such violence is allowed to simmer, the outcome would severely affect the very education system. Our children must be allowed to learn in a non-violent environment. But most of all, teachers must be assured that they can go about their jobs free from fear of being violently attacked.

For too long teachers have been left to the mercy of irate parents who seem to blame them for every problem. The parents appear to act on the basis of complaints by their children; no longer are teachers given the benefit of the doubt. It is no wonder our young graduates seem less inclined to go into the teaching profession. Such parents should be condemned and made to face the full force of the law. There should be no playing around on this matter. For the education system to work to the benefit of the society, the safety of teachers must be guaranteed. When students witness adults assaulting teachers at will, they are emboldened to emulate such actions. We are, therefore, in solidarity with the Guyana Teachers Union which has been drawing attention to this problem for some time now.

As hinted above, the violence in question has a gender dynamic—most of the teachers assaulted are females. It is no secret that the majority of teachers are females, as males tend to shy away from the profession. Perhaps the very fact that teachers tend to be female is one of the contributory factors to this growing problem. It is a case of the anti-female violence spilling over into the schools. The larger point here is that the solution to this problem lies beyond the confines of the school. The society has a duty to protect its women at home and at their place of work.

This is where law enforcement comes in. Questions are being asked as to how persons gain entrance to the school compound—where is the security? We do not recommend the militarisation of our schools, but it may become necessary as some sort of back-up security. Most of the security guards themselves are women who may be intimidated by the culprits. At the risk of being labelled alarmist, we think that it is high time the Ministry of Education take a hard look at security arrangements during school hours.

Ultimately, this problem in question has to be sorted out in the communities. There is need for a massive anti-violence movement in the society. But there is also need for a return to the culture of respect for teachers; teachers must be seen as the nurturers that they are. They are entrusted with shepherding our children into adulthood and preparing them to take their places in the society. And parents and guardians must protect them as much as we protect our children. It is time the society raises its collective voice and say a resounding no to violence against teachers.