The Ministry of Education recognizes the need to inculcate a culture of safety and security in all schools. The ultimate objective is to provide safe and secure school environments which will better enable teachers to fulfill their main duty of delivering the curriculum and students to concentrate on learning. Safety in schools is of paramount importance and necessary in supporting the all-round development of each child, giving him/her the opportunity to learn and achieve in a nurturing environment.
To that end, the Ministry has taken the lead in establishing clear guidelines and expectations for all practitioners which should enable them to take appropriate action where necessary. It is vital that all schools have a common understanding of these expectations and adhere to these norms. Achieving this end requires that every school develops a School Safety Plan which is aligned with the broader guidelines. The effective development of such a plan will be a collaborative initiative involving the entire school community. Ultimately, it is the involvement of the community and all education stakeholders which will be the essential element in creating and maintaining safe and secure school environments.
School records reveal that there are instances of disruptive behaviour. Many of these take place within the school or within the vicinity of the school and involve students and staff members. The advent of gangs within our schools have compounded the situation; largely contributing to the overall disregard for school rules and undermining the authority of teachers. In addition to misdemeanours, which are usually dealt with at the level of the schools’ administration, there have been a few incidents which are criminal in nature and have required the involvement of other agencies.
In other instances, there have been cases where issues unrelated to the school itself have found their way onto the schools’ premises. Incidents involving individuals who have informal relationships with the school, such as vendors and other community members, have also had implications for school safety. These clearly underscore the fact that partnerships are needed to address the issue of safe schools and administrators need to be fully aware of the options which are available, and the acceptable and expected action which should be taken.
Zero Tolerance in Guyana’s Education System
The Ministry of Education has taken a decision to adopt a zero-tolerance approach in relation to indiscipline in schools.
What is zero tolerance?
Zero tolerance is the policy of applying laws or penalties to even minor infringements in order to reinforce its overall importance and enhance deterrence.
- Sanctions are mandatory with limited discretion
The school is directed to report the offence to the Department of Education, including School Welfare Services according to the Manual of Guidelines for the Maintenance of Order and Discipline in Schools. The school must also apply sanctions to the offender, whether directly or through the established procedures – depending on the type and severity of the offence. Every offence must be reported and punished since warnings are not part of the zero tolerance concept.
- Sanctions are predetermined and consistent
Sanctions which are applied to an offender are decided upon before the offence is committed and do not take into account the circumstances under which the offence was committed. As outlined in the Manual of Guidelines for the Maintenance of Order and Disciplines in Schools, sanctions are applied by offence and not according to circumstances.