As a former Principal of Fatima College and a former President of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA), one would have thought that Anthony Garcia would have been an excellent Minister of Education. But history has shown that a doctor is not the right choice to be Minister of Health.
Two important statements of Garcia come to mind since he was appointed Minister of Education. He said that come September 5, all schools would be opened. Now we are seeing the aftermath of that statement. Protest, protest, protest. Secondly, he said that school violence had been reduced, never before in the history of this country. Well, a new video which went viral shows grave indiscipline at El Dorado West Secondary School, months after a similar situation at El Dorado East Secondary School.
On September 5, here Minister Garcia:
We have always had some very serious disruptions associated with the reopening of schools. I had put my neck on the line by publicly stating that all schools will be opened when school begins on September 5. I am pleased to say that my neck is still firmly sitting on my shoulders.
“All our primary and secondary schools have reopened. Of course there are some challenges but we will face those challenges as we go along.”
A media report on March 15 states:
“Students at the El Dorado East Secondary School who have been identified as exhibiting “undesirable behaviour” will not be removed from the school.
Following a meeting with the parents of the students and officials of the Education Ministry, it was decided that no immediate action could be taken.
However, while 31 students were identified as displaying the unwanted behaviour, a poor turnout was noted on the part of parents and students. Only 13 parents showed up for the meeting.
Education Minister Anthony Garcia said the Ministry was attempting a different approach – meeting with the parents of the deviant students, then conducting individual assessments, which would then be used to determine what course of “appropriate” action would be taken.
For the most part, the Minister noted, parents “agreed” that the infractions committed by their children were unacceptable.
The Ministry is embarking on an exercise to weed out indiscipline at the nation’s schools; purging them of all undesirable behaviour, to ensure quality education is delivered to all students in T&T. The Minister noted that this could not be achieved when some students are intent on disrupting operations and teachers are forced to hide in staff rooms.
Garcia was adamant that the school would return to being a safe place, where learning and teaching could be conducted.
So what has happened since?
The Ministry’s Student Support Services Department is terribly understaffed and cannot handle the increase in indiscipline.
Now comes a new video which has gone viral.
The video, which was shared to social media on Friday, shows a number of female students dressed in the uniform of the El Dorado West Secondary School delivering a beating to another uniformed female student.
The victim could be seen covering her face with her hands as a crowd of schoolgirls kicked her about the face and body.
Disturbed by the contents of the video, Garcia hastily called a media conference on Saturday to address the issue.
Describing the attackers as a “mob”, Garcia said he had received numerous calls from persons indicating their disgust at the behaviour of the schoolgirls. Among the calls he received was one from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Garcia said.
He said Rowley expressed great concern.
“It was a great disappointment to all of us when we saw that video that highlighted that type of behaviour,” said Garcia.
He said in addition to the violence depicted, he was disturbed by the obscene language used by the schoolgirls.
Garcia said that sort of behaviour would not be tolerated in the nation’s schools.
He promised to take “decisive action” against the attackers should they continue along that course of behaviour.
Although the video just came to light, Garcia said investigations revealed that the incident had occurred on October 26. The victim received injuries to her face and had to undergo medical treatment. Ten students involved in the attack received a seven-day suspension.
Despite this, Garcia said he ordered a thorough investigation be conducted to ensure that such indiscipline does not reoccur.
He will also be meeting with the parents of all the students involved as he said those types of behaviours are rooted in the home.
“The blame rests largely on the shoulders of the parents,” he said.
He said the Ministry is currently reviewing the Education Act with a view of making parents more accountable for their children’s actions at school.
Garcia said as Minister of Education, he alone has the authority to expel a student from school. He said he would not hesitate to do this if the behaviour of the students does not change.
However, he said the Ministry will ensure that the students are given professional attention and expulsion would be a last resort.
“If it has to be done, it will only be done after careful consideration and consultation with the Ministry and parents.”
Questioned on whether it was necessary to increase security in the nation’s schools, Garcia said this was not the away to go.
“Schools must not be jails,” he said. “Beefing up security is not the answer. I hate to see schools with high walls. I hate to see schools with barbed wire fences. That is not the way a school is supposed to be. School is supposed to be the extension of a community where everybody is supposed to move to and from very freely.”