And so, another day and another incident in our schools. This time around, the mother of a four-year old autistic child took to social media, to air her grievous complaint regarding the way her son was allegedly “left gasping for breath” after an interaction with his Breakfast Club LSA. Her recounting of her son’s alleged treatment points to the most shameful and unprofessional conduct on the LSA’s part and one which should thoroughly be investigated by the school and the education department.
However, this same mother later took again to social media to state that she had “forgiven the actions of the LSA”; which as a mother myself strikes me as quite odd. If you truly believe that your child is being mistreated in some way, would you rest until the perpetrator in question is held fully accountable and disciplined for his or her actions? I don’t think so, or at least I wouldn’t. Would I leave my child (and a special needs child at that) again in the hands of someone who I have actually seen with my very own eyes “bellowing at him with her fingers in his face” and who supposedly has the professional training to know better? Not on your bloody nelly! Would I forgive someone who has caused such a trauma to my special needs’ child so easily? No, I don’t think I’m that much of a good Christian.
But all this does not in any way imply that the incident did not happen, that the mother in question did not actually witness this behaviour. But it might also mean that this incident could have been blown a tad out of all proportion. With easy access to the ‘courtroom’ of social media, where everyone and his dog has an opinion driven by some kind of agenda, it is quite easy for anyone to get carried away especially where one’s child is concerned.
On its part the Malta Union of Teachers was quick to deny the allegations stating that, “From the information that the Union has, the LSA in question actually reacted in a professional matter in the interest of the students in circumstances where the child could have hurt others as well as the LSA or even himself.” Which brings us neatly into ‘he said, she said’ territory and while you have to empathise with the mother, the truth remains that no one except for the child, the mother and the LSA actually know what happened on the day.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that such incidents have occurred in our schools and even more worrisome is the fact that these incidents seem to be on the rise. What can be done to ensure that teachers can carry out their duty without fear of retribution and for children to be safe and secure within the perimeters of their school? Perhaps the most straightforward and effective solution would be to install CCTV systems in every school and every classroom in the country and do away with conflicting evidence and statements when these incidents occur. These systems would also go a long way in eradicating bullying, harassment and violence within our educational institutions. But would they prove to be an ethical solution?
In an interview in January, Minister Evarist Bartolo, reiterated that while the need to safeguard and enhance security for both teachers and pupils within schools should take precedence, we need to find a balance to avoid our schools from becoming “high-security prisons”. It is a stance with which I personally wholly agree, but which however does not address the current situation. For ultimately, will technology make for a safer school environment, or will it simply lead to a not so ideal dystopia that prepares young people for a life where their every move and action is monitored and gauged? In other words, could this not lead to the unpleasant scenario where Big Brother is the be-all and end-all of our existence and the end of life as we know it?
Gone are the days, when at school, we were smacked to within an inch of our life for some misdemeanour or other, only to be told by parents, ‘mhux ghax haqqek’ when we report the incident at home. Teachers at the time enjoyed the parents’ full support and were considered as being incapable of any wrongdoing. But at least for my generation, stories of educators for whom corporal punishment was part and parcel of the curriculum, abound and it sure was not ideal. But now we have come full circle; some parents view teachers as nothing more than service providers or worse still as babysitters for their children. Obviously, both extremes do not, by any stretch of the imagination foster a healthy learning environment where both educators and pupils can function without fear or harassment.
But back to the CCTV conundrum – indisputably, with such systems in place, security is enhanced and provides the actual footage of any wrongdoing, they bolster teachers’ accountability as well as acting as a deterrent for misbehaviour, but it can also be seen to be a violation of privacy, so until we can find the right balance for this conundrum, would it not be ideal if parents address their concerns to the relevant authority, instead of seeking their fifteen minutes of fame on social media?
On the other hand would it not make more sense for all parties concerned if complaints by parents are thoroughly investigated by the school in question, instead of this being immediately brought to the attention of the teachers’ union, where these will simply close ranks and defend the alleged perpetrator at all costs? Until we find a way to ensure maximum safety for all those who inhabit our educational institutions, be they children or educators, would it be so difficult to learn to communicate in a civil, healthy way? Would it be so bad if we can start out by respecting each other, believe in one another’s capabilities, both as parents and educators, and take a step back before we embark on yet another witch hunt?