Kenitra - What happens when violence trespasses on our schools and penetrates the only place we think is immune to any social transgressions?
Kenitra – What happens when violence trespasses on our schools and penetrates the only place we think is immune to any social transgressions?
What happens when there is an outbreak of violence within the confines of our educational institutions? What are we supposed to do when we fail, as authorities, educators or even ordinary people to cultivate a real sense of courtesy in our society?
After a series of grotesque incidents of school violence that attracted the lenses of the local media, such questions surfaced on the public debate arena like an iceberg. Whether it was a teacher who cast his students with a cargo of insults, or a student who stabbed his teacher in the neck with a knife, the seriousness of the acts has turned this into a phenomenon that seems to be growing rapidly.
It should be evident that school violence is mainly related to the stability of the social rapport established in schools. We cannot expect an unstable environment, which is packed with negative feelings and unhealthy relationships to yield positive results. Therefore, we could claim that violence comes from within the environment itself; the environment which would soon shock anyone who has never been to our public schools.
As soon as we set foot in almost any Moroccan public school, the first things that can easily attract our attention are the walls that are overloaded with tilted phrases, sentences and sometimes paragraphs. The problem is that a great deal of such writings translates waves of negative emotions towards the school, the administration staff and more importantly, the teachers. Regardless of the credibility of the complaints and allegations expressed in those writings, we cannot deny that the problem starts right here. However, most people in charge of that sacred environment seem to neglect this part and more often than not, consider it to be part of a rebellious act or even an artistic endeavor that some students have.
The shocking scene goes even further with all the broken windows and doors, the shabby desks and tables not to mention the nasty toilets. Granted, most of these unfortunate conditions are caused by the students themselves, but make no mistake, that is only one part of the equation. Since the lack of solid educational grounds for these kids as well as the shortage of any activities to absorb the amount of negative energy they might have only encourages their destructive motives. Moreover, the crippled measures taken to remedy such violent behavior are scares and far between. Thus, violence against school property becomes a norm rather than an exception.
There have been several theories put forward by some Moroccan sociologists and psychiatrist to explain why a considerable number of students are aggressive at school. The most consistent of all these theories seems to be based on the claim that students, especially adolescents, are overloaded with energy that needs to be discharged. Therefore, the most natural and safest way for releasing such energy is through extra-curricular activities. Unfortunately, the Moroccan public school does so little in this area. There is an alarming lack of entertainment facilities, youth centers or even genuine sport fields in our public schools. In this regard, students do not find the proper way to channel all that energy into something positive and fruitful. Hence, all that constructive energy trapped inside these adolescents turns into a destructive one.
It is clear that the relationship between the Moroccan student and school is not healthy for several reasons. In addition to the hostile environment as a physical entity, school represents yet another source of authority; one that does so little to encourage kids when they excel, but does so much to punish them when they fail. The average student in Morocco is supposed to come to a cramped classroom that contains forty to fifty people, study up to eight hours in terrible conditions with no incentives at all, and never complain. Additionally, students are overloaded with courses they need to study and they are pressured to pass all subjects, even the ones they show no interest in. Not to mention the excessive abuse they might undergo from certain authority figures if they act up. Thus, the frustration begins and violence seems to be an easy outlet for many of these teenagers.
Perhaps, school has gone off road in fulfilling its most basic role in this country. All of a sudden, it seems that the Moroccan public school has maintained one role lately; that is to keep kids out of the streets and under the watch of a particular authority, while the role expected from such valuable institution is to educate tomorrow’s citizens. Actually, there is a common feeling among educators and teachers that a considerable number of students seem to come to school against their own will, and as a reaction they act up in different ways to prove their frustration and dissatisfaction.
As an educator myself, I tend to search for the reasons why students are frustrated and displeased with schooling and education as a whole. I usually come to the same conclusion that the majority of students are not motivated at all. Besides the typical problems that they may be going through at home with their families or at school with their peers, students do not see a lot of benefits in schooling. They are often discouraged because of what is going on around them. In other words, the high rates of unemployment nowadays, especially among college graduates is a phenomenon that affects the motivation of high school students. For instance, you would almost certainly find in every student’s family a brother, a sister or a cousin who has a college degree and is still jobless or “semi-jobless”. Therefore, we would be unfair if we condemned these teenagers for their absolute lack of interest and enthusiasm.
Although this reason may be disapproved of by some people as it postulates that schooling should be directly tied to having a job, but we should admit that this unfortunately is how it works in this country. I would not like to fall into an unfair generalization, but a great majority of people are pre-programmed to relate schooling and education solely to finding a job and making a living. Thus, when this relation breaks, everything falls apart and motivation becomes an afterthought. In any case, this mainly has to do with how education is perceived in Morocco, and that is another huge subject that I do not wish to dwell on for the time being.
Perhaps, another reason tied to this whole motivation problem is found in the courses students take. Most of these courses are not stimulating and lack substance. They are often full of clichés that the students and teachers alike find pretty dull and repetitive. It is painfully obvious that quantity is favored over quality in our educational system, which is frustrating for the students who have to take all that material in and the teachers who have to pave the way for all that material to set in.
Another disturbing practice that takes place mostly within the surroundings of the school is drug addiction and drug dealing. The Moroccan authorities have lately caught a number of drug dealers who make of schools their target market number one. In fact, apparently, we now have drug gangs who use students to spread their merchandise and double their victims. As a result, most of the school violence incidents that happened lately were associated in a way or another with drug use. For instance, the student who repeatedly stabbed his teacher in the neck in Salé lately was claimed to be addicted to drugs. However, that should not come as a surprise given the predictable consequences of drug use among teenagers.
So, having said all that, should we cast the blame on teachers now? Perhaps, some teachers have lost track of the noble objectives tied to their profession. Or perhaps teachers, like their students, have become constantly restless and aggressive due to the overall dire conditions of our Moroccan public school.
The claim that teachers are responsible for school violence because they are not doing their job properly is barely a one-dimensional diagnosis of the whole phenomenon, and one which unfortunately a considerable portion of society holds true. Some people accuse teachers of provoking such violent acts by engaging in a series of unethical practices like using abusive language in class or using the grading system for money-spinning purposes. While these claims hold true in some cases, they certainly are exceptions and they do not justify the horrifying violence incidents we have witnessed in our schools lately.
It is undeniable that teachers, given their role in society, are to be hold accountable for any transgressions that may happen inside school. However, there is always a fine line between what should be and what there is. In this respect, teachers themselves are under constant pressure; whether it is the hefty curriculum they are obliged to finish on time, or the unbearable conditions in which they work. Most teachers often find themselves stuck between a rock that is their didactic objectives and a hard place that is coping with the never ending problems of their overcrowded classes. Hence, we often end up with either of the following scenarios: an aggressive teacher who aims his /her negative emotions at the students and therefore plays the role of a policeman in the classroom, or a subdued teacher who loses control over his/her class and therefore plays the role of a clown in the classroom. In this case, both scenarios have a good chance of generating violence as conflict and aggression could easily turn into a daily routine.
Society as a whole has become under constant pressure, and violence has become a daily practice in our public places and even homes. From obscene language to fighting with knives and swords, our streets and avenues have become a stage for all kinds of violence. Hence, school could not escape the outbreak of this phenomenon. Unfortunately, instead of becoming the antidote that cures it, it has spread the infection even further. The reason for that can easily be tied to the inefficiency of school as an institution that cultivates the morality of society.
Some Moroccan associations have argued that violence in Moroccan schools is a strong proof that our educational system has failed to meet its objectives. The Moroccan association of students’ rights, in its latest national office meeting asserted that the violent acts that took place within this academic year (2012/2013) are a clear reaction to a dysfunctional system of education that fails to provide Moroccan students with a welcoming environment and equal opportunities to succeed. Furthermore, the association demanded that the Moroccan ministry of education should take the responsibility to rectify the situation by improving the quality of education and more importantly, providing schools with psychologists and psychiatrists.
At this point, it seems clear that psychological support is admittedly a substantial component that Moroccan schools strangely neglect. It is quite embarrassing in this day and age that the ministry of education does not train psychologists and sociologists like it does for teachers and inspectors. Perhaps, they expect the teacher to play that role when they integrate a single theoretical course of psychology within the one year of training teachers get. Ironically though, it has become clear that everyone, including teachers and educators, needs some psychological counseling and therapy every now and then to aid their cause, especially in nowadays’ stressful and uncomfortable conditions.
The role of the media, particularly television is hard to overlook when addressing such a complex phenomenon. Moroccan television, especially 2M channel, has been the centre of several accusations from the general public lately. In fact, several educators and sociologist have started to alert the general public to the menace that television poses, especially for teenagers. Reality shows like “The most dangerous criminals” on 2M or “Crime Scene” on Medi1TV have been highly criticized for their plain depiction of violence.
While there is not a single scientific study that determines whether or not such programs have indeed something to do with the phenomenon of school violence in Morocco, the impact that some television programs can have on society, especially teenagers, is not to be underestimated. However, in fairness to Moroccan television, violence exists all over the media nowadays; in movies, shows, music videos and even some cartoons. Therefore, it seems that a proper education built on solid grounds and clear-cut principles might provide teenage viewers with an immune system that is hard to breach. Since, as adults, parent and educators, we can never prevent televisions and satellite receivers from entering our living rooms. However, it is still an obligation for our local channels to invest more in educational programs to sensitize people and cultivate their morals.
Generally speaking, violence is not a school crisis as much as it is a social crisis. Consequently, every one of us has something to do with it either directly or indirectly. In this respect, there is absolutely no need to point fingers at one direction if there is an honest will to put an end to such phenomenon that threatens not only our ethics and values, but also our lives and the lives of those we love the most.
Perhaps, an effective solution for any complex phenomenon begins with rethinking and rebuilding all the fundamental grounds. First, we need a strong and quality-oriented educational system that provides equal opportunities for everyone. We also need to give psychology in this country a chance to cure some of the problematic practices that are associated with our society in general and our schools in particular. Moreover, we should recover faith in our schools and families as the two most pivotal institutions in any society. Just then, we can claim to be on the right path to greatly reduce, if not eradicate the epidemic of violence in our schools.
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