Good move on schools Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
March 11, 2007

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THE government’s decision to establish "no smoking zones" at all public schools and ban the use of cell phones in classrooms, effective from the new school term in April, is a most welcome move.

Smoking by students and misuse of cell phones, including the conveying of unpalatable sexual messages and stirring discord and hate, are among contributory factors to the sad decline in morality in our schools with outrageous multiplying effects in the broader society.

Violence in schools among students, as well as hostility towards teachers by students, is a problem not peculiar to Guyana. It is region-wide, as are problems of sale and consumption of illegal drugs, such as marijuana.

But every society has an obligation to seriously and methodically pursue initiatives to significantly curtail, if not altogether eliminate such dangerous social problems. The Ministry of Education, therefore, is moving in the right direction to ban the use of cell phones in classes and in imposing "no smoking zones" around all public schools.

However, much more needs to be done, with stronger, effective management at schools, with active involvement of teachers, parents and, yes, students themselves, in a moral crusade against violence, smoking, and rude and violent behaviour at schools.

In our letters columns yesterday, lawyer Ms. Deborah Osman-Backer, revealed her own strong views over what's taking place in the nation's schools. She urged the reintroduction of "moral education" in a programme that would also include the conduct of classes/seminars on "alternative dispute resolution for both students and teachers".

Given the fact that we are dealing with a serious national problem with the new policy on "no smoking zones" and use of cell phones, the Ministry of Education should engage the administrators/management of private schools to consider their own involvement in the process.

Additionally, since urgent or emergency messages could also be done through the offices of principals and/or administrators at primary and secondary schools, there should be time limits for general use of cell phones, such as at official break periods.

Mature, defined rules should be established for observance of the proposed "no smoking zones" with specified penalties for violations by students. Possession of illegal drug, arms and other dangerous weapons should be quickly processed by law enforcement agencies as part of a more vigorous campaign to weed out such practices.

We are aware of the onerous, stressful burdens that the nation's teachers and police have to face in coping with the evident decay in moral standards -- in and out of schools. There is also the growing cost to the government to maintain security personnel at schools.

But there can be no shirking of responsibilities.

Nor should excuses be substituted for more caring, enlightened attitudes by school administrators and managers; or more prompt and effective responses by the police in dealing with violence, hooligan behaviour and the sale and consumption of illegal drugs in and around school premises.