School principal and politicians share views on rising school violence

Principal of the Ottos Comprehensive School, Foster Roberts (right) (Photo by Neto Baptiste)
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By Robert A. Emmanuel

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While officials in the Ministry of Education continue to devise strategies to reduce the incidents of violence among youth, three public figures have also offered their opinions on the issue.

During an appearance on the Good Morning JoJo sports show yesterday, Principal of the Ottos Comprehensive School Foster Roberts said that there needed to be an evaluation of the root causes of delinquent acts at schools.

“As a society, church, home, we would have failed because we place all of the responsibility of socialising the child on the school.

“Now, when we have to do that, plus education … then it places a greater burden on us, so even before the term is halfway, our teachers are already burnt out,” Roberts said.

Teachers, he added, were becoming extremely worried about their personal safety because seemingly, “nobody wants to do anything serious about it”.

Recently, youth have been directly and indirectly accused of perpetrating acts of violence. Two young men were this week remanded to His Majesty’s Prison after they were found carrying weapons into the YMCA Complex which at the time was hosting a sports tournament.

Roberts also called for strict adherence to the current laws and for parents who fail to live up to their responsibilities to be arrested.

“The laws are there on the books; implement the law,” he stated. “Parents need to be held accountable for the behaviour of their children … and if holding them accountable means that you lock them up so they spend one, two or five days in jail so that they understand ‘you have a child in this world you are responsible for bringing up in the proper way’, then we are not going anywhere,” he explained.

Meanwhile, speaking to Observer yesterday, former educator and newly elected Member of Parliament for the St John’s Rural West constituency, Richard Lewis, posited that the main cause of school violence was the lack of employment opportunities for youth.

“We are going to have to do something about the lack of meaningful employment for these young people,” he stated.

Lewis said that the use of drugs among youth was also concerning, stating that “we know that there is the decriminalisation of marijuana, but it was never intended for people under the age of 18 to be using marijuana at will”.

He added, “This problem affects everybody; it is not just the schools or the schoolchildren, it is the entire society that is at stake here.”

Lewis also noted the need for increased counselling in schools, stating that the Covid-19 pandemic and the prevalence of social media have impacted positive socialisation among youth.

He added that he planned to ensure that the government keeps its promises to address the issue.

Meanwhile Sean Bird – UPP candidate for the St John’s Rural East constituency where the Clare Hall Secondary School which has seen two incidents in the last week is situated – said he was not surprised at the developments and called on education officials to take a more proactive approach to address youth violence.

“I have been speaking about it before I got into politics, that our youth are at risk because the parental situation in Antigua and Barbuda is questionable as we have a lot of single-parent homes and many of the young men and women are at risk,” he said.

Bird also cited the use of drugs and alcohol among youth as a main concern for him, and said that the teachers were “well within their rights” to request for additional security.

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