CRIME is now on the attack! It means, therefore, that a battle of war has been waged against violence and crime in St. Lucia. But who are the aggressors and what is the strategic plan? In time, all of that information would unfold. In the meantime, we want to thank God for the Minister of National Security and the Leader of the Opposition for conceiving and implementing the national symposium on crime held recently.
In three previous articles, we investigated the crime situation, particularly as it relates to young people. We also looked at three factors that influence violence generally and, indeed, youth violence, in particular, in St. Lucia.
In this article, I will begin the process of offering suggestions for dealing with the crime situation. More particularly, I will share ideas for dealing with our youth.
The problem of crime is very acute because we have allowed it to fester. We sat back for a very long time and did not take control. It has now become the concern or business of every St. Lucian: at home or abroad, wherever they are! It has now become not just the concern of government, the churches, or non-governmental organizations and citizens generally, but the concern of every law-abiding citizen.
No doubt, some immediate action must be taken in the short-term to bring a halt to this situation of violence and crime in our country. If we have to consider the factors which influence violence and crime, some of which I have already identified, we will agree that some of the effective plans to reduce or eliminate the scourge would be in the very long-term.
Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian visionary, has said: “If we are to reach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with children; and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have to struggle; we won’t have to pass fruitless ideal resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with the peace and love for which consciously or unconsciously the whole world is hungering.”
Now, we have said it over and over again that there is need to revisit our school curriculum in St. Lucia to make it relevant to the modern-day societal realities. As it stands today, the curriculum does not reflect our present-day realities. Our curriculum must include teaching students to be peacemakers.
In this regard, I am proposing a “Peacemaker Programme” in the Social Studies and Health & Family Life Education curricula. The curricula should include the concepts of conflict resolution, peer mediation and cooperative learning. Of course, the concept of cooperative learning is nothing new to our education system. As a person who has worked for a very long time in our education system, I can report that the concept of cooperative learning has not been sufficiently utilized or explored in the teaching and learning experiences in the classroom. Indeed, cooperative learning could be utilized in all of the subject areas.
As it relates to education, I would like to propose the abolition of corporal punishment. Now, I must admit that I remained in the teaching service for a very long time. I did, in fact, administer corporal punishment. But it was used mainly for behaviour modification, particularly as it related to discipline, with the hope of bringing about positive change. However, things are gravely different today. Many families are reeling under social pressure brought about by family issues or the economic realities of the time. Those pressures could easily manifest themselves in the classroom, particularly through the use of corporal punishment.
We are living in a civilized world and there are so many new strategies which could be used to bring about positive change in students and young people. In fact, beating or flogging children or students could bring about bigger problems which we may not even anticipate.
I would also like to propose the introduction of Teaching Service Regulations (a set of rules or guidelines which would detail the process of getting things done in our education system). Indeed, that authority would be vested in the Teaching Service Commission. For example, the loitering of students in many public places after school hours is an issue the Teaching Service Regulations could address.
Another very important issue I would like to see addressed in our education system in a very serious way is the issue of school attendance. When I began teaching in 1966, the illiteracy rate was around 40%. That is 40 persons in St. Lucia out of every hundred were unable to read and write. Notwithstanding the huge investment in education by government and, indeed parents, and the rapid pace of technology, the literacy rate is still around 40%. That is extremely high! There has been a constant flow of students leaving secondary school who cannot read and write. We have not been able to stem the flow! The commercial sector continues to lament the quality of students being sent out to the world of work.
There are several ways to deal with that situation. One important way is to make school attendance compulsory. The rate of school attendance is now at its lowest. We have to ensure that students come to school regularly and remain in school to acquire the literacy skills. Absenteeism from school affects learning. It denies the students the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to perform effectively.
One school attendance officer for the entire education system is making a mockery of school attendance. To be honest, there is no school attendance officer in our education system. But there are other matters of school attendance which I will deal with as we go on. However, I wish to say here that there isn’t a formal home schooling system in St. Lucia and in order to ensure that students gain access and increase the literacy levels, students and parents must be made accountable for school attendance.
In the next article, I will begin by looking at the whole issue of Religious Education in school. Where is God in all of this?