Earlier this week, the Minister of Education announced his intention to install Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras in the toilets at schools. This intention may be the response to the recognition that students engage in unbecoming behaviour behind closed doors, toilets or otherwise. For example, students are known to barricade themselves in toilets in order to gamble. Evidence is that gambling is a serious problem in Saint Lucian schools. Data will show that at one educational institution on the island about two-thirds of all disciplinary cases which warranted the attention of the principal were directly related to gambling. It is also well known that toilet walls are the canvas for some of the most creative and explicit graffiti on this side of nirvana.
In addition, toilets have traditionally been the premiere location for flirting and for exchanging body fluids.Our constitution avers that any person in Saint Lucia is entitled to protection for his/her life, his/her personal privacy, the privacy of his/her house and other property. Therefore, it is desirable that the Minister of Education considers current perspectives on the use of CCTV. Indeed, many agencies acknowledge that an individual’s right to privacy must be cautiously guarded. In the United Kingdom, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) concluded, on the basis of research, that the public supports the use of CCTV and expects the technology to be used responsibly with proper safeguards to protect personal privacy. On that matter, the Californian Penal Code (section 647) is particularly detailed; it mandates that a person who uses a camera to look into a bathroom or any other area where an occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy is guilty of disorderly conduct.
Research into the issues associated with the installation of CCTV will also reveal that responsible agencies establish unambiguous guidelines for the use of these devices and the data gathered through these devices. Such guidelines invariably recognize the need to avoid peering into private
domestic areas. I grant that the school is not a private domestic area, but does that make the space any less personal to students who spend more of their non-sleep hours there than in any other place?
I hold that it will be particularly important for the minister to consult with the persons who will be subject to the surveillance—the students and teachers. It is expected that Wayne Cumberbatch, the General Secretary of the Saint Lucia Teachers’ Union, as part of ensuring that teachers’ privacy rights are not abrogated, will ask the ministry to provide details on the installation of these systems. I am however concerned that no one will advocate on behalf of the students notwithstanding they are most susceptible to the abuse created by any mismanagement of any school-based surveillance system. My concern is reinforced by the memory that just last year, primary school girls were sexually molested by the very watchmen attached to their schools. Couldn’t a
CCTV provide greater opportunity for the abuse of children by unscrupulous adults entrusted with their care?
Considering the sensitivity of the images that will be garnered through this innovation, the minister should create an effective avenue to dialogue with the students on the policies that will guide the use of CCTV in schools. (I doubt students at the secondary schools will agree to place these cameras in the toilets.) The mechanism used for fostering dialogue with students on that matter may well serve as the prototype for encouraging discourse with students on all policy matters relating to education. If this mechanism is thoroughly thought out it will help our students (future citizens and leaders) to value the importance of consultation, consensus and consociation–all elements of good governance.
Educators will eagerly explain that the hidden curriculum includes the values that students acquire because of their school experiences. It should be noted that these values are not taught directly. For example, the incessant “licks” that we received while at school may be the reason older Saint Lucians insist that misbehavior must be punished by inflicting physical and/or emotional pain on the offender. In common parlance, the hidden curriculum may be described as “the message we are sending” to our students. I am concerned about the messages we will send if we install CCTV systems in our schools’ toilets.
By planting cameras in the toilets will we be sending the message that the school toilets are no longer the place to expel body waste in private? Will we be sending the message that trampling the privacy rights of our citizen is acceptable? Will we be sending the message that it is alright to set up equipment to secretly capture images of persons who are not fully dressed? Will we be sending the message that schools are like prisons and that students are like hardened prisoners who must be monitored even in toilets?
The minister is an educator and must know the power of the Pygmalion effect (self-fulfilling prophecy). By championing the call to place CCTV in the toilets at our schools is he sending the message that he want to be remembered
as the one who started the process of changing our schoolhouses into jailhouses?