GTU ‘rings-in' on cellular phone ban in schools

Kaieteur News
March 11, 2007

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The Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) is supportive of new initiatives announced by the Ministry of Education to curb violence in school, including introducing a ban on the use of cellular phones in schools.

This course of action has been taken in other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, including Barbados and neighbouring Suriname .

GTU President, Colwyn King said that while a ban on the use of cellular phones might spark controversy, it is a well known fact that the devices are known to be equally distractive as they are helpful.

King related that a child attending Stella Maris Primary School used his cellular phone last week to record a closed-door meeting with union officials and teachers at the school.

He said that the high level meeting was held to discuss an incident where one of the child's parents attempted to assault a teacher in the compound of the school.

“This might be an isolated incident, but teachers have come to recognise that cellular phones are equipped with games and other features which cause students to be distracted from the learning process,” King stated.

He added that phones that are fitted with “bluetooth” technology, Internet and can allow for the transfer of pictures, foster the spread of pornography.

“Parents may argue that cellular phones are helpful in cases of emergencies and I agree. But if the school prohibits the use of cellular phone and parents are opposed, then they should take their children to maybe a private school where the phones might be permitted. It is time for action,” King said.

But King noted that the issue of safety within schools is much wider than a few measures often implemented after a problem has developed.

He called for there to be consultations with major stakeholders, including parents, on how best safety at schools could be achieved.

King said that there are clear guidelines about how a school environment should be treated and noted that parents are given the lead-way by the Ministry to barge into schools without stating properly their reason for being there.

“If someone has a problem with a police rank, they will not walk into a police station to beat up on that rank. Similarly, parents need to understand that a school compound is sacred,” King said.

However, he conceded that part of the problem lies in the fact that there are inadequate security arrangements at most schools, thus placing the lives of teachers and students at risk.

“Should we license all teachers with guns? Surely this is where this entire situation appears to be heading and very soon teachers will have to take a stand against being forced to work in such a hazardous environment,” King stated.

Last Friday, Education Minister Shaik Baksh announced a concerted plan of action to curb the upsurge of violence in schools, including a ban on cellular phones, increased sporting activity and the placement of school welfare officers.

The upsurge of violent attacks both on teachers and students by perpetrators in and out of the school system has become of grave concern to the Ministry.

Baksh announced that his Ministry is in the process of incorporating a number of school welfare officers to assists teachers and plans to declare all schools ‘smoke-free zones'.

Baksh stressed that although social problems in schools have escalated, it is not only the responsibility of the Ministry but also parents, the community and other key stakeholders.

He commented that a more child-friendly approach is necessary with respect to students taking weapons to school instead of a search system.

Minister within the Ministry of Education, Dr. Desrey Fox said that in order to address these issues, teachers will need to understand the background of the students.

Dr Fox said some students are left unguarded and are forced to take care of their schooling needs unattended.

She noted that in addition to the broken value system of the family unit, children are exposed to violent television shows from which even adults should refrain.