It is a welcome development that the Lagos State government and the police are taking more than a passing interest in the unfortunate sex scandal involving some pupils of Chrisland School, Lagos. The debate so far has centered on whether the girl in the midst of the affected pupils was raped or not. That, though not unimportant, is not my immediate concern here. First, many people appeared to be carried away by the likely negligence and perhaps, alleged cover-up by the school authority. Others believe that the parents share in the guilt. The display of skill by the girl, they say, was a demonstration of a prior practice; or curiously, an expert knowledge about adult game. That normally should be a major concern. Another concern should be how the little girl got exposed to that kind of thing that she could be as skillful as it is said, and then beat the teachers to it to carry out such an escapade.
We should be concerned about that girl and her future. However, she was not alone. Therefore, it is a surprise that attention appeared too concentrated on the girl. Maybe because she is the only one of the pupils whose mother has cried out. I believe that the boys too deserve our sympathy and help.
Which is why I think that an attempt to find a scape goat for the problem may not deliver the best result in this case. Yes, the police should probe this matter and probe it deeply. We must find out who introduced those children to what they appeared to have turned to an art. Where did they get the idea from? How did they get the courage to decide that such an act could also be recorded for release to a public that was not part of the act? The police, perhaps working with psychologists, should delve into the background of each of them to look for the answers to some of the questions on how they got into what they did. Being minors would save them from sanctions that would ordinarily have followed such an act; but we should not be fixated on condemning these minor offenders. Rather, we should help them in order to help the society. While any adult found culpable of influencing or derelict in this case should not be spared, it is in the best interest of all that we realise that blame game will not help us. As much as possible, the investigators, police and government, must be dispassionate. For instance, there is no doubt that the school authority appeared not to have handled the matter well enough. But what is the role of parents? People who rush to blame school management for acts of indiscipline among school children forget that the children spend more time at home than they do in school. That is one. Such persons also gloss over the fact that the training of the child starts from home, and that whatever the school builds on is also taken over by the home. And when we talk of the home, we mean parents; which include uncles, aunties, cousins, and even neighbours or peer groups.
In our society today, the pupil is the king or queen. The government forbids any form of strong handling by the teacher. So, for instance in Lagos State, the pupil is entitled to report a teacher who applied corporal punishment on him or her. Teachers are therefore so extra-careful that even when they invite parents to the school for counseling on how to train the children and they are insulted by the parents, teachers generally swallow their pride. We should not run away from the fact that there is a problem that the society is saddled with. That of a descent in the value system. Unfortunately, it is so easy to resort to blame game, leaving the real problem for us to cry over another day. So, it is high time we accepted the fact that in a situation like this, we have a whole lot of responsibility to the minors who the parents, the school, the government, and the society have failed to bring up in the right way. The government, in handling this matter, should also be asking itself what needs to be put right for there to be decorum among the budding generation. When you say the teacher should not apply the rod, what principles or laws are there to help the child? Should we not find out how the child is helped by the relationship between the school and the home? By this I don’t mean the parents/teachers association that some parents struggle to lead so they can have access to funds donated by other parents for development of infrastructure. No, what I mean is the kind of rapport that used to be between the school and the home, where parents would not think of hiring thugs to deal with a teacher on the information of the child who claimed to have been abused. Is the government aware that now that you have a greater percentage of teachers being women, pupils have little regard for teachers because they feel that a woman should not have authority over them? Have government officials not heard reports of under-20 female students refusing to take instructions from female teachers, telling a teacher her mother’s age, “after all you are just a woman like me”? There is decadence in the society. That is not in doubt. The government knows, and the parents are aware too. However, hope lies in knowing that a case like this can be used to address the problems that stare us in the face. That, of course, is if we don’t sweep facts under the carpet. Some of these things are known to officials of the state ministry of education. For example, shortly before the last Easter break, there was an incident in one of the schools in Lagos that should give the government and the society serious concern. A female teacher, in an attempt to discipline a female student, injured her. The teacher did not only own up to it, the girl was treated and the teacher and representatives of the school authority went home with the student to report the matter and apologised to the parents. Apparently, the girl was not appeased. So, the following day, the school received some curious visitors. Her boy friend hired some people, armed with canes, who stormed the school and beat up a number of teachers, since they did not know the teacher in question. They also told them that it was in retaliation for the treatment meted out to the girl. If it happened in a private school, particularly if the matter gets into social media, the immediate reaction of the government would have been to shut down the school, as was done to Chrisland, and Dowen before it. That so-called prompt reaction gives the impression that what happened was a novelty. It is not. There are government schools where teachers are afraid to be posted due to the notoriety of students and parents in the environment. Was it not in this same state that an education officer had his promotion/ appointment reversed following complaints about his perverseness? One of the cases now being investigated involves two teachers in a school in Lagos alleged to be having affairs with one of their students. When you blame teachers or school administrators, you should also look at the girl-child who, as a result of the quality of training given at home, throws herself at people, including touts who invade schools to harass teachers for simply asking her to dress decently. Is there any punishment designed for pupils who hire “parents” to defend them in school so the authorities there can soft-pedal on punishment for misdemeanor? This is not an attempt to defend anyone. What is important is that we should endeavour to deal with the causes of our problems rather than the effects. Otherwise, we will never get things right.
When we get to the root of a matter, it surely empowers us to help the child to have a future we can all be proud of. That responsibility should not be left to the school simply because parents pay millions of naira to keep them there. Of course, the child also has the tendency to look down on the teacher if parents brag about the duty of the administrators because of the high cost of school fees. How much care do we have for the child apart from the millions we pay, so we can boast among friends that the child is attending an elite school? As we probe into the case of the minors at Chrisland, that should be the question we should ask ourselves. The school erred by sending that girl out. It is an indication that she is seen as not one who needs help, but a rotten egg that should not be allowed to contaminate the others. Such an attitude implies standing the essence of education on its head. Instead of throwing her out of the school, the administrators ought to have thought of a possible rehabilitation programme for her, of course in collaboration with the parents. After all, had she won in a competition in Dubai, she would have been celebrated as a student of Chrisland, not even as a child of some parents somewhere. So, the school should be concerned about her future, as well as the future of the boys. It amounts to shortsightedness for the school to believe that sending the girl away would help it protect its image. A better future for the girl and her partners is as much the responsibility of the parents as it is of the school. Left to go their wayward ways, they would contaminate many in the society and the cycle could return to the place where we thought we had cut it off. A stitch in time saves nine.