Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Dr. Keith Mitchell believes that there is a need for much more counseling support at schools in order to curb youth violence on the island.
His observations came in light of last month’s fatal stabbing of a 16-year old male student at the Happy Hill Secondary School (HHSS) within his own St. George North-west constituency.
Speaking to members of the media last week Thursday, Dr. Mitchell felt that the family unit in the society is not so strong as in previous years.
“A lot of our young people need more guidance and support,” he said.
The Prime Minister recalled finding himself in little school fights, but never had any thought of using a knife, cutlass or gun to settle scores because of the possible implications.
In referring specifically at the HHSS incident, he said it involves the loss of a life of “an innocent young person full of life… and here they are gone”.
“In fact it is not one life gone. You’re talking literally (of) a family, and sometimes a community is destroyed, so I think the support system in the schools – we have to improve that. The counseling support has to be stronger than we have right now,” he added.
Prime Minister Mitchell pointed out that it is unfortunate for someone to have lost his life in that manner, stating that this is the second time an incident of that nature occurred at the same school.
Zibon Flemming of Cuffie Beau Hill in Grand Anse, St. George’s was stabbed in the area of the chest with the use of a knife.
An autopsy report revealed that he died as a result of hypovolemic shock and cardiac tamponade.
Dr. Mitchell said while it is well to have a youth policy in place, the changes have to come through every sector of the society playing its part.
“We must do all that we can, but if we do all we can and we don’t have a stronger family unit, more support in the system with counseling and other support… and helping people to deal with the fundamental problems in the family and in the society, and in the community, I think we’ll still have problems,” he remarked.
Dr. Mitchell is not keen on having mandatory searches of school children.
He believes it is easy to identify who are the children that give problems at schools.
“I don’t think it’s fair to go searching every kid in the school on a given day,” he said.
Flemming’s murder-accused who is charged with non-capital murder has been remanded to the Bacolet Centre, and is due to re-appear in court on December 13th.
However, former Commissioner of Police James Clarkson believes random searches can help curb the violence.
Clarkson who was a guest on a television programme discussing youth violence believes it will continue to happen if structures are not put in place at the schools.
He expressed fears that if the entire community is not involved in the structures, then youth violence will reach the stage of becoming a national security problem.
The former CoP indicated that just having the presence of the police at schools is not worthwhile if they do not have a special function within the school environment.
He said that physical surveillance of the institution must be taken into consideration.
“To make that institution secure, you need to have random searches, you got to have profiling of students,” he added.
According to Clarkson, the principals and teachers will know the “bad-behaved boys” who give the trouble and should be counseled before they get into problem.
The former CoP also spoke of the problem with the use of illegal substance.
“Even some of the kids use to be pushing these things for their parents,” he added.
THE NEW TODAY was reliably informed that a parent was recently called in by a teacher at one of the boys’ secondary schools after he discovered that the youngster was smoking marijuana.
Clarkson believes there has to be an avenue where parents, students and teachers can be engaged.
Vice-Principal of the St. Rose Modern Secondary School in St. John’s, Kenny James who was also a guest on the television programme disclosed that youth violence in schools is a big problem, and that security at schools has always been part of the discussions within the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT).
James told the host of the programme the introduction of security and counselors in schools came out of an initiative by GUT in an effort to assist in providing support, and in attempting to curb the offending issues.
He said that in each of the schools there is some level of violence but which does not always result in the death of someone.
“There are a number of incidents that happen at our secondary schools, whether it is with the girls or the boys.
However, the former GUT President agrees that the problem with school violence is not strictly related to the educational institution, but it is a deeper societal problem that is being reflected within the schools.
The secondary school teacher pointed fingers at the musical artform and the community for having a negative influence on students.
“Some of the music that we listen to, the Jamaican reggae music, dancehall music… some of the artistes you constantly hear about their different wars in the music… and these are the kinds of influences that our young people have,” he said.
According to James, when a student will speak of being a “G” which is a gangster, it comes from the community.
James believes there is a place for the police and school, adding that at times spot searches are done at the school where he teaches.
He said a group of teachers will be selected to search the bags of the children for things that the students should not be carrying on the compound.
He also disclosed that a counselor is assigned to each secondary school, but counseling is not something that can be forced on a child.
The former GUT President spoke of flogging being done at the school where he teaches.
James indicated that the Education Act gives the principal, vice-principal, or someone designated by the principal or his assistant the authority to use the strap.
However, he admitted that flogging is not administered as an option in disciplining the student, although there are cases where the behaviour changes.
“You look for alternative ways, or alternative measures to addressing disciplinary problems rather than just using the strap… but the option of the strap is still available,” he said.
The school vice-principal believes that all stakeholders including the school, teachers, union, Churches and community can work together to help in preparing the young people to deal with the various issues that confront them.