9 Aug 2013

Student-led initiatives crucial in reducing school violence in Tonga

5:17 pm on 9 August 2013

The Coalition Against Violence in Tonga says any effort to reduce violence between schools must be led by the students themselves.

It's been more than two weeks since 147 students and ex students from Tupou College were arrested in relation to an attack that left two Tonga College students in hospital.

A number of meetings about how to tackle the ongoing issue of school violence have since taken place.

Leilani Momoisea reports:

The Coalition Against Violence says violence between schools is an escalating issue in Tonga. A member of the coalition, and the director of the Women and Children Crisis Centre, Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki says the strong message they want to send is that any proposed solution needs to have the students as leading the way.

"OFA GUTTENBEIL-LIKILIKI: So we need to involve them and we need to get the students from the schools to participate in developing the way forward. Otherwise we'll be talking amongst ourselves, as leaders, as key stakeholders, and the students will not take ownership of whatever we decide as an exclusive group, which is why it is so critical to get them to participate in the entire process."

The Tonga police commissioner, Grant O'Fee, says police staff and prefects from Tonga, Tupou and Liahona Colleges have been working together since the attack. He says it is only a short-term solution, but so far it has been working well to keep the peace between the schools.

GRANT O'FEE: We've had the prefects from those schools walking with police staff around the areas that we know have been areas where we've had difficulties in the past. They've been wearing jerkins, sort of a police partnership with the schools, and that's seemed to work reasonably well so far. And we've staggered the finals of the rugby games so that we don't just have one big day of rugby.

The head of the secondary school Principals Association, Father Aisake Vaisima, says a task force has been set up to come up with long-term solutions.

AISAKE VAISIMA: The principals will meet again to continue our discussing further avenues to pursue. Over all it has died down, over all the excitement and everything else is back to normal and now the real work is starting.

Father Aisake Vaisima says this time students will be included in coming up with a solution together with the ministry of education and the police.

Ofa Guttenbeil-Likilik says in 2008 the Secondary School Principals Association produced a comprehensive report on student violence, with great recommendations. But she says nothing from the report was implemented because students were not involved, so did not take ownership of the problem. Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki says they are currently offering counselling and support services to students, and through this are hoping to develop some case studies.

OFA GUTTENBEIL-LIKILIKI: We want the students to tell us themselves, why is the violence happening, where is it coming from, what needs to be improved and unless and until we can get the students to start telling us and for us to document this whole story-telling from the students we will never be able to come up with student-led initiatives. We're just here to guide them and hopefully give them the tools and the means to come up with effective strategies.

Meanwhile, an ex-Tonga College student is still in hospital in a very serious condition after suffering a skull fracture during the attack from rival Tupou college students. All arrested in relation to the attack in July are expected to appear in court 9 August to 11 August.