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Cellphone incident – A stimulus for viable change

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Fri, Jul 19, 2011

Editor: The recent Girls’ High School cellular phone saga is a timely intrusion into the debate on educators’ autonomy in schools. It certainly unravels the double-edged sword involved in implementing applicable internal school rules. The subsequent noncompliance and fallout, often forces the victim to seek shelter under the branch of legal technicality.{{more}}

Whilst I welcome a father playing a pivotal role in his child’s educational wellbeing, I am disappointed in the Prime Minister for not letting discretion be the better part of valour, by allowing his wife to deal with the matter. Mrs. Gonsalves would have used poise and maternal judgement to resolve the issue, bearing in mind that her husband would have attracted attention and intimidated those answerable to him. Indeed, a weaker principal would have buckled and rescinded his/her decision, thereby undermining the school’s integrity.

This episode mars an otherwise classy 100th anniversary (all year) exhibition, spearheaded by Headmistress Andrea Bowman, a woman of integrity and strong moral judgement. Given Dr. Gonsalves’ meticulous nature, and the GHS practice of distributing rule books to incoming students, it’s incredible that the father and daughter were not aware of the existing cellular phone rule. This is more so, given the subsequent heated PTA discussions that ensued in 2004, following the circulation of the Ministry of Education’s memorandum on cellular phone usage in schools!

Additionally, the Prime Minister’s claim that his daughters were often singled out for unfair treatment by unprofessional teachers with jaundiced political agenda, is unfortunately expected, given their father’s office and the prevailing political tribalism within the state. Conversely, Mr. Prime Minister, it is reasonable to conjecture that there are also unprofessional and politically-clothed teachers within the GHS, who offer preferential treatment to your daughters for the same reason. So, Mr. PM, you should have taken the humble road and let dumb dogs lie.

Although his motive may have been well-intentioned, it is my view that the PM should not have exposed the Ministry of Education (MOE) the way he did. This should have been the Minister of Education’s call, since it would have stimulated a more legitimate and healthy national discourse. It certainly would not have been viewed as political interference, since there is the need for the uniformity of sanctioned school rules by the MOE. It would also have stimulated the argument that sanctioned MOE’s school rules must be supplemented by internal by-laws relevant to individual school needs.

A case in point is the Ministry of Education’s sanctioned “no cellular phone in school” policy, which may not be practical to every school. For instance, the social status, economic condition or proximity of the child’s family may dictate the use of the cellular phone to transmit an urgent message during school (seven) hours. As a result, the school should be allowed to draft its own independent by-laws to accommodate such eventuality. A practical solution is to facilitate schools with custom-made storage cupboards to accommodate cellular phones and laptops during school hours.

Chaos! You might add, but with proper supervision and the passage of time, this would become a normal occurrence. Like the one laptop per child initiative, we should embrace this technological dilemma with creative and practical resolve.

In closing, it is important to note that the sustaining of our schools’ laws, mores and ideals are much bigger than us. We should be mature enough as a people to discuss such pertinent issues in the interest of national development. Therefore, since her action constituted two offences, Soleil’s cellular phone should have also been seized and her parent/s called in to discuss the matter. Case closed!

Collin CA$H Haywood

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