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Primary school principals on indiscipline in schools: Change school hours

Published: 
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
President of National Primary School Principals Association (NAPSPA), Cogland Griffith,centre, with Education Minister, Anthony Garcia,left, and Minister in the Ministry of Education, Dr Lovell Francis following a press conference at the ministry's headquarters on St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain.

A recommendation has been made to the Ministry of Education (MOE) by the National Primary School Principals Association (NAPSPA) for a change in the school hours for primary school pupils as one way to further reduce injury and indiscipline among students in schools.

Although Education Minister Anthony Garcia has described the idea “one which merits great consideration,” he agreed that it requires extensive consultations with major stakeholders such as the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) and the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA) before any permanent changes can be effected.

Admitting it would be a change in policy at the ministerial level, Garcia yesterday urged persons not to rule it out as the Ministry of Education continued to explore various ways and means of minimising the incidents of violence and indiscipline among students.

Speaking with reporters following a mid-morning meeting with the NAPSPA executive at the ministry in Port-of-Spain, Garcia insisted, “There has been a decrease in the incidents of violence and indiscipline in our schools, but we do not want to stop there.”

“We want to ensure that we continue to do everything so that our schools will be safe places where our principals, our teachers and our students can operate,” Garcia went on.

Articulating their support was NAPSPA president, Cogland Griffith, who sought to explain how the suggestion was conceptualised.

He said, “As regards indiscipline, we can adjust the lunch hour. The lunch period is the teachers’ time and we want to respect that, but we feel that if we have a shortened lunch period, we can reduce the incidents of indiscipline and violence at the school.”

Revealing that information had been taken from some private schools in Trinidad where the lunch hour had been reduced to just 30 minutes, Griffith said, “They have seen a reduction in the violence and some of the primary schools on pilot project who have done that successfully have seen a reduction.”

He said the 30 minute break would facilitate students having lunch in the classroom, before going out to use the washroom and returning to class.

Griffith said changes to the school hours would also allow teachers to leave school earlier, “They are getting home earlier and have time to prepare.”

He said this would also facilitate a more integrated approach where after-school programmes and home-work centres could be introduced and run by persons from within the community, thereby increasing the vested interests of those in and around the area.

Pressed to say if the idea had been proposed to teachers, Griffith replied, “I could see most teachers welcoming that, especially if they live far away from the school.”

Assuring parents that students would continue to have two 15-minute breaks during which they could socialise with each other, Griffith asked, “Do you prefer their hands are broken if that is the socialising they do? They have time to play. There are programmes in the school itself that allows for all of that such as physical education, character development and a host of other things that is for them.”

Pointing out that times had changed, Griffith said, “We need to give things time to develop,” adding that after-school programmes would cater to persons who remain after school is dismissed.

“People are willing to partner with schools to come in and do things voluntarily. Whether we believe T&T to be a bad place, there are people and agencies just waiting to come in. Drama, cricket and cub-scouts are free and for persons in certain communities who do not want to be there after a certain time, they can be out of there by 4 o’clock, but we have to give it some time.”

Garcia is set to meet with all school principals very early during the next term and Griffith is hopeful that other issues such as funding, the curriculum, and student/teacher support will also be discussed.

Discussions yesterday also centred around the 2018 National Test which was currently under review; the format of the Secondary Entrance Assessment; the move by the Ministry of Health to completely ban soft drinks and other beverages high in sugar from schools; the role of sports and its impact in the classroom; and the standardisation of school reports in order to facilitate the easy transfer of students throughout the system.

On the topic of reducing the consumption of sugary drinks, Griffith proposed, “We have an alternative. We feel that it shouldn’t just be removing it directly but incrementally.”

In January, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh announced a ban on soft drinks at all government and government assisted schools as part of their attempt to reduce childhood obesity and tackle the early onset of non-communicable diseases.

Bans were also introduced on sport and energy drinks, tea, coffee and milk-based drinks with added sugars and artificial sweeteners.

Commending primary school principals for the yeoman service they provide in addition to ensuring the smooth operation of their respective institutions, Minister in the Ministry of Education Dr. Lovell Francis said they had witnessed some innovative measures being introduced at schools in Tobago, which they were eager to replicate in Trinidad as strong leadership was a critical component needed to successfully run a school.

Francis said they had begun experiencing success with the Morvant/Laventille Improvement Project, evident by the fact that the Port-of-Spain and Environs school district had begun recording lower level of violence and indiscipline among students within the past year.

He attributed this to strengthened relationships with parents and community personnel working together to tackle the roost causes of juvenile delinquency, adding that it would be impossible to keep increasing the numbers of guidance counsellors and social workers.

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Principal Association not happy

Unhappy with the continued suspension of the principal of the Mayaro Government Primary School, Andy Paul - NAPSPA is calling for a speedy resolution in the matter which is still under investigation by the Ministry of Education.

Paul was suspended earlier this month, following an incident at the school in which a student’s arm was broken.

Providing an update following yesterday’s meeting, Griffith said they were “comforted” by the discussions relating to the matter.

However, he admitted, “We still feel that there has been a breach in process and we are looking forward to a speedy resolution of the matter.”

Paul was reportedly instructed by the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) to cease reporting for duty while an investigation was conducted into the circumstances surrounding the injury suffered by a student on February 1.

The suspension was allegedly done in accordance with provisions of Regulation 88 of the Public Service Commission Regulations Chapter 1:01.

School security working

Satisfied with the current level of safety and security in primary schools, Garcia said, “They evidence shows that what we have in place is in fact working, in spite of what is being said otherwise. We have been able to secure a reduction in the incidents of indiscipline among our students both the primary and secondary level and the data supports that.”

Garcia blasted naysayers who criticised claims by the ministry that suspensions were down as a result of stricter measures when he said, “It isn’t statements we are making just as we pull them out of a hat.”

On Tuesday, TTUTA officials dismissed the ministry statistics as they said it was not a true reflection of what was happening with students in the system, as they claimed school principals had been told to reduce the number of suspensions being handed out.

Griffith said there continued to be isolated cases being highlighted in the media, which had served to create a public perception that students were out of control and that violence and indiscipline was not being properly addressed.