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Failing our youth

The scary spectre of school violence grabbed headlines again last week, bringing a sharp reminder of simmering conditions within the walls of the nation’s educational institutions that are now erupting on a regular basis.
In a matter of days, the national focus on the daily murder rate has switched dramatically to the nation’s children and the brewing conditions in which the teenaged generation in particular are facing life on a daily basis.
School violence is not new. We have known about the problem for decades. There have been numerous studies, analyses and conferences of all kinds on the subject. Parents, principals, teachers, community groups and the police, among others, have been warning the nation’s leaders and policymakers about sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind of our alienated, disgruntled youth.
Today’s youth violence has its genesis in the erosion, over a short period of time, of many of the supports that once kept children engaged and supervised in times of old. To find the roots of the dysfunction, we will have to re-examine how mass secondary education was constructed in the 1970s and the adequacy of the arrangements since then for responding to the needs of young people in a period of national social transition.

It is easy to demonise our young people as the ones who are knowingly committing crimes, but as a society, we need to examine the many ways in which we have failed them to the point where they see aggression and violence as the best way to get what they want from life. Their rejection of discussion, negotiation, patience and process mirrors the state of public life where the tone of violence is all-pervasive. The example being provided to our youth is one of taking whatever you want by any means necessary. While school violence cannot be excused, it can be explained by an increasingly entrenched attitude of self-interest first and everything else after.
Clearly, the problem has to be tackled on many fronts. There already exist many well-grounded studies on the problem with meaningful recommendations for fundamental change. Education and disciplinary authorities need to resist the impulse to embrace superficial solutions that sound good but make no dent on the problem. If these were useful, T&T would not be experiencing such regular flashpoints of school violence.
In any case, it is not as though we do not know the sources of the problem. Among the many factors that have been cited are: changes in family and community life, increased urbanisation, radical expansion of the school system without adequate preparation and support facilities, technological change, increased alienation, an unengaging school curriculum, easy exposure to the global culture and many others.
T&T young people need to be convinced by the evidence that doing the right thing pays; if not, they will see greater value in doing the wrong thing. This calls for a comprehensive response involving an immediate action plan within a phased programme designed to resolve the problem on a long-term basis. Given recent incidents, we have no time to waste.
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