Minister lobbies for Avele reopening

Concern for innocent students and the name of Avele College are just two of the reasons behind a push to have the school reopened, according to Education Minister, Loau Keneti Sio.

A report from relevant sectors the Education Department after wide consultations with the school staff, parents and former pupils will reportedly offer a way forward to ensure change at the beleaguered secondary school.

Information tabled in the report include changing how the school is run; reminding parents of their responsibilities; getting former, successful pupils to give inspirational speeches and “sitting down, talking and consulting with them in the Samoa way” according to the Minister.     

The impetus for the report was Cabinet’s initial decision last week to close Avele College. The widely-discussed issue and concerns were raised not only by the Avele College Old Pupils Association (A.C.O.P.A.), staff and teachers of Avele College, but more importantly, the parents and students of the school. While investigations are underway regarding the recent school brawls, the Minister of Education and the principal and staff of Avele College have been having consultations aimed at finding an alternative solution to the problem.

In an interview last week, Loau said it had been a really tough week for him and the Ministry. “We’ve been having consultations not only with the principal and teachers but also the Parents and Teachers Association (P.T.A.) of Avele College,” he said.

“We are trying to finalise our report today, and present it to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers.” He added that their consultations have been very fruitful. “The police have already identified the students who have posted the messages on social media. So the matter with those students is with police now. 

We were able to catch them and they have been charged because of their behaviour.

“But as the Minister of Education, I should not just sit in my office and do nothing.”

He reiterated that the issue of interschool violence is not new. And that the government and the Ministry of Education have been trying over the years to come up with better solutions to put a stop to it. 

“But in this case, the issue had gone to a whole new level.” As for his views on the option taken by Cabinet to close the school, Loau said he can’t say much about that.

“It’s hard to answer,” he said.

“But if we look at the situation closely, this is not the first time Avele had been involved in interschool violence. As mentioned before, this is not a new issue. However, it seems like whenever there is interschool violence, Avele College is always involved in it.  “And we’ve given them a lot of chances but the problem keeps getting worse. So the government had to make a decision before it was too late.”

That decision made was a warning for all students who think that it’s okay to fight in public places and cause trouble, said Loau.

“It’s a message not only for Avele College, but also for other schools who have been involved with school fights. We’ve given them a lot of advice and warnings but these students think that we are not serious about this. Most of them think that this is just a joke.

Loau believes that students should learn from this and this will help change the way they think and act.

“They should understand that fighting will not do them any good. Instead, it will affect their schools, teachers, principals and especially their parents.

“Because in Samoa, whenever someone does something bad, people always ask about his or her name, their parents’ name and where they come from.”

Moreover, Loau wants to remind the students who are responsible for these kinds of actions to think hard about the tears their parents shed when they apologise to the teachers, police and when they go to the Minister’s office for help.

“These kids have no idea that their impulsive actions are affecting a lot of people.

“We’ve had a lot of parents coming here asking for help in tears and it’s not good, because I am a parent as well.”

Nevertheless, Loau also said that the decision had left the innocent students in a very “messed up” situation. 

“There are a just few of them who are responsible for this ridiculous behaviour,” he said.

“But the innocent students who go to school to actually learn, are suffering more from this. They are missing out on a lot of subjects. Time doesn’t stop just because their school had been closed down. They are now far behind in terms of the syllabus compared with other schools. And that has raised a lot of concern. “It has also ruined the good name of the school,” he added.  “A lot of good leaders and successful people in our country were nurtured in Avele, and I am sure that they are all affected by this.”

As for the teachers of Avele College, Loau said that the teachers are now working at the Education Department of the M.E.S.C. 

“They are helping out while we await a decision from the Cabinet.

Through a compiled report which was put together by the Minister, the principal, teachers and old students of Avele College and also the Ministry of Education, Loau said they are hoping that they will be able to convince the Prime Minister and members of Cabinet to reopen the school.

“We want to take quick action on this matter because a lot of parents have come to me and ask for help.

“I am hoping that by Tuesday, we will get an answer from the Prime Minister and Cabinet. We will try and convince them to give Avele another chance for the sake of those innocent students and teachers.”

Loau did not want to elaborate on the details of the report; however, he said that if Cabinet will give Avele another chance, they will make changes on how to run the school.

“We’ve agreed to bring in a lot of former pupil of Avele College and have them talk with the students of the school. We think that if we bring them in and talk to the students and share their stories with these students, they can learn from them how to behave well and how to be successful. This could motivate them to become better people. We will do it the Samoan way. We sit down, talk and consult with them.”

However, Loau believes that the best solution is to start from the basics. 

“Home is where it all begins,” he said. “It all starts from the bottom. Because this is college we are talking about. This kind of behaviour could’ve been avoided if they were well-brought up. 

“The Bible is clear on this. Train up a child the way he should go, and when he grows up, he will not depart from it. So again, this might not be an issue if we were careful with how we raised our children from a very young age. 

“So we really want to start form the grassroots level and work closely with the principals, teachers and P.T.A. of Avele College to avoid having this problem again.” Asked if he thinks bringing back punishment could be another solution, Loau said he is certain that corporal punishment could not solve the matter at hand.

“Bringing back corporal punishment is something that we need to look at very carefully,” he said.

“We can’t just decide to bring it back and make it effective right away. We will just end up confusing our kids. And with the strong push now on the children’s rights, I don’t think bringing back corporal punishment is the best solution to this, because children are very sensitive nowadays, and we cannot control what they think and the way they act.

“So we really need to take this step by step and come up with a better and more effective solution.”

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