By Orville Williams
“We’re failing to teach the children right.” That’s the simple message from Foster Roberts, Principal of the Ottos Comprehensive School (OCS), in response to the incidents of violence that have been frequenting the nation’s schools.
“Our young people just seem not to be able to resolve their conflicts without fighting, and I want to believe that these are some of the things that our society seems to be perpetuating.
“Because, in essence, schools are microcosms of our society, and so the behaviours that we see our children exhibit in our schools, they come right out of the society in which we live,” a disgruntled Roberts told Observer this week.
The outspoken principal’s school was the centre of the latest violent incident last week, when a fight between two male students — a third former and fourth former — left one nursing stab wounds. According to reports, the fight occurred close to midday when both students should have been in class and a pair of scissors was used to inflict the injuries, which required six stitches.
Just recently as well, a video showing several female students engaged in a brawl at the YMCA facility in St John’s went viral on social media, forcing the Education Ministry to yet again condemn the violence.
Roberts himself has been advocating for urgent intervention in the schools for several years, as far back as 2017, in the wake of a stabbing incident involving three female students of OCS, Jennings, and Pares Secondary schools.
And the OCS has regularly been the site of similar incidents, meaning the principal has had first-hand experience and speaks from a place of genuine disappointment.
He told Observer that it is not only the frequency of the violence that is concerning from a societal standpoint, but there are other issues that contravene traditional values and standards of behaviour.
“[For example, the children] have a way of talking these days — they refer to each other as ‘dawg’. I don’t understand that, how you could look at another person and call him a ‘dawg’?
“Well, that is the way that they talk and they think that it’s cool. Obviously, that is what they hear in the society and they probably watch it on television as well,” he said.
Roberts, therefore, reiterated a call for members of the public to adopt a greater sense of responsibility in the types of lessons that are taught to the children and how their behaviours are rewarded or reprimanded.
“We have to be very cognisant as a society. I keep calling on us as a people – the adults in our society – to give proper guidance to our young people, because schools are not places where these things should be happening.
“These things should be happening on war fields and we don’t have any war fields in Antigua,” he added.
The violence among youth is not limited to the school premises, but often spills over into the communities. A teenager is currently receiving urgent medical attention at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre after he was brutally attacked by a group of fellow youngsters close to his All Saints Road home.