In Trinidad and Tobago, the spiking levels of criminal and domestic violence can be seen impacting on the education system. In my experience, students may display a variety of symptoms ranging from withdrawal, restlessness, forgetfulness, aggression, crying, boredom and “spacing out” among others.
Challenges Faced in Trinidad and Tobago:
Typically, teachers are faced with overcrowded classrooms, overwhelming syllabus requirements and limited resources. It is difficult to quantify the challenges and the impact of any specific factor, including exposure to violence, on classroom management because statistics are not easily available.
However, in my experience I have observed teachers being faced with issues such as violent outbursts, storming out of the classroom and apparent disinterest by some of the students. There may also be the issue of “corridor walkers” or those who abandon classes for the day as they seek to cope with the trauma of exposure to violence by avoiding authority and activity that requires focus and concentration.
Additionally, the student exposed to direct or indirect violence may be embarrassed or unwilling to share with or seek advice and counselling from an adult, turning instead to a peer. The advice received could be sound but may sometimes pose an obstacle to developing proper coping skills. These and other factors can adversely impact classroom management by the teacher.
In my professional opinion, based on the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, I offer these solutions to assist in increasing student productivity in schools:
- Zoning of students on entry to educational institutes. This may help in reducing the anxiety levels in parents and students in terms of transportation costs.
- Sufficient social workers and guidance officers and trained volunteers should be available to the schools.
- Volunteers from NGOs can be engaged to assist and encourage a culture of volunteerism in our local society.
- Statistics on the number of individuals who have been exposed to violent crimes should be available to the guidance officer so that appropriate programmes can be planned and implemented for those individuals.
- Special emphasis should be placed on the psychological, social and academic needs of these individuals. There should be more involvement by guidance officers in the placement of students in classes and in choice of subjects for various careers.
- Members of the school’s population should be informed about the roles of guidance officers in the school, who ought to be stationed in one school full time.
- Each school should have more than one officer. One officer should be assigned for behavioural issues and the other for academic guidance.
- There is a need for more qualified social workers who live in the various districts and who can liaise with the guidance officers. They should be available at all times. Social workers should conduct more home visitation and increased group discussions should be encouraged.
- Teaching methods should be addressed. Critical thinking skills, data collection and discovery learning should be emphasised.
- The entire curriculum and method of time-tabling should be reviewed to ensure that they are relevant to today’s needs.
- The needs of the Caribbean should be addressed and the one-size-fits-all method should be re-examined.
- Supervised support groups can be formed in the schools. Ideally, students should not have to wait on the availability of a guidance officer or social worker when one is needed.
- Specific programmes for child bereavement and traumatic grief counselling should be initiated in schools.
- Intervention for children and families after a disaster should be conducted.
- Each teacher should be adequately trained for managing a school crisis. Each school is expected to have a functional crisis plan based on written policies. The incidents in the classroom would be addressed on an individual case-by-case basis. It is expected that the individual would be monitored, guided and advised. Students should be taught to understand the incident, reaction and limits and should be advised to take personal responsibility.
Currently it is required that every school in Trinidad and Tobago develop a crisis management plan. There is also a requirement that evacuation plans be developed that should be placed at strategic points in all the schools. The personnel identified for each duty should be listed. Student Support Services at the Ministry of Education (MOE) guides schools’ administrators in organising these evacuation plans. The personnel department at the MOE assigns roles and responsibilities of individuals on the compound. Safety Officers and Security Officers are assigned to the schools. Volunteers from members of staff are used in mapping and layout of compound.
Questions for discussion:
1. Should statistics be collected on students who were exposed to violent crimes?
2. From where are these to be collected/ Who should have access to them?
3. Do you believe that all members of the teaching staff should be trained to identify students who may be in need of help?
4. What are your reactions to reports of violent crimes?
5. Where should a child who is being abused in the home go for help?
6. If you were the teacher in the class, how would you handle the “corridor walker”?
7. Do you know of homes where students can be placed if there is a need to relocate them from their residence?
Ertl, B. J. (2016, May). Managing School Crises: From Theory to Application. Macoya, Trinidad: International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF).
About the Author
Lynette Moonilal–Lakshman is a professional in the field of Education and a retired Principal of Barrackpore West Secondary School in Trinidad. She is a graduate of The University of the West Indies with a B.Sc. degree and a Diploma in Education. She also holds diplomas from the London Montessori Centre Teacher Training College in the Nursery Foundation Course and the Primary Teaching Diploma. Through the Victim Support Foundation she holds certification in Crisis Intervention from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Maryland, U.S.A.
Mrs. Moonilal-Lakshman has worked with diverse populations and in a variety of school settings. Her special interests include the teaching of males, organising and participating in Science fairs, training for volunteer programs and scouting. She currently volunteers at the Victim Support Foundation and is researching the application of the Montessori Method in the teaching of children who have been affected by violent crimes.