VIOLENCE AT SCHOOL : Failure of the Panoptic School Model

Reported cases of spate of violence and gross indiscipline in our schools are creating grave concern amongst the population. This situation reminds the elder generation of the film ‘Graine de violence’ starred by Sydney Poiter in the 1960s. Various measures are being proposed ranging from strict disciplinary measures to video surveillance and posting of security guards on school premises or police patrolling at bus stations to address the urgency of the situation. In terms of analysis, some think that Mauritius has known a rapid change over a relatively short period of time moving from an agricultural society to an industrialized one in the early 1970s and major exporter of textile products in the 1980s. As from 2000, our country entered a post-industrialised period with the opening of call-centres becoming a CyberIsland. Now we are moving towards a blue economy. This vertiginous evolution inevitably impacts our social fabric and adversely affects our schools. Others think that the symbol of authority in society is being eroded because of the loss of credibility and lack of trustworthiness in figures of authority (teachers, policemen, politicians, religious leaders, judges, etc). Finally the blame game puts the onus on parents. It would be wise to take time and look into international surveillance studies related to break down of discipline in schools. What is happening in Mauritius is not unique. Developed countries face same challenges. International studies show that school violence is intricately linked to schools as panoptic spaces, where power is exercised by constant surveillance and monitoring. But the problem comes when power and surveillance no longer work.
The term ‘panoptic spaces’ is coined from the word ‘Panopticon’. The PANOPTICON was proposed as a model prison by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), a Utilitarian philosopher and theorist of British legal reform. The Panopticon ("all-seeing") functioned as a round-the-clock surveillance machine. The prison is a ring of cells encircling a watch-tower, from within which a single supervisor is able to see inside each cell. The inmates in the cells would begin to behave as though they were being watched all of the time, ultimately removing the need for any kind of external supervising presence whatsoever. The watch-tower becomes then the deterrent and inmates internalized this outside gaze even if it is absent. The term Panopticon has gained currency in the academic field with its use by the French philosopher Foucault in his publication Discipline and Punish: Birth of the Prison (1975) as a metaphor to explain the functioning of disciplinary power in Western society. In fact, schools’ architecture in a Eurocentrist mindset have been built upon this panoptic model both physically and mentally: the term ‘panoptic school’ is often used as lens to analyse discipline and surveillance, based on the assumption that  schools are sites which control, supervise, sanction, reward and punish. Power and authority are based on the figure of the teacher or head of school even if both are absent.  But today the panoptic school is now being challenged and under attack by a network society where emphasis is laid upon creativity, collaboration and learning communities not on the ‘watch-tower surveillance’. Given our limited space, that learning and teaching are conducted and assessed in a foreign medium of instruction and our attachment to family values and traditions, Mauritius is most probably feeling more painfully the decay of the Panoptic model of schooling.                                                       
In 2010, Michael Gallagher gave the findings of an ethnography study in a sub-urban primary school in Scotland. The study investigated how the school space is occupied by pupils and teachers in a power relation perspective. The study revealed that the school was an ‘empire of the gaze’ ruled by surveillance. But maintaining a continuous gaze and surveillance was impossible even if teachers had class-assistants. One interesting observation and which can be paralleled to the Mauritian schools, was the injunction to remain quiet:
when the children arrived and came to sit on the carpet; when the teacher was explaining their lessons; when they sat at their tables working; when they lined up for gym; when they lined up after playtime; before they went to lunch; when they returned from lunch; at every juncture, the teacher tried to find ways of regulating the noise level in the classroom. On one occasion the teacher said: I would like to see complete silence. Callagher observes that schools should rely as much on ‘hearing’ as on ‘seeing’. Mauritian schools must become spaces for hearing and listening our youth. Teachers and head of schools should be trained in discernment, cultural critique skills and empathy. Parents should become active partners with schools by working a lot on trust and authenticity between parents and teachers and heads of school.


The Educational System is so rotten in Mauritius that a single article cannot expect to give a solution to the multi-faceted problems. The indiscipline aspect has been rife since several years, especially in Boys SSS. It's only with the media puting the "Rectors-shattered-Mercedes-windcreen" in the limelight that some voices are being heard. Until when? Anyway, better a few than none at all.
Some argue that tougher disciplinary measures are not a solution: they have a right to hold such an opinion. But what they must be aware of is that indiscipline is BEING AIDED AND ABETTED BY THE MINISTRY! I give one example: A rector friend of mine relates this incident: Some student set fire to the toilets. The Fire Service and Police were informed. Meanwhile the culprit was identified. The police officer asked the rector to file a statement inasmuch as the boy had a police record. Meanwhile, the Ministry DEBARRED the rector from giving the statement. Reason? The father was the "agent" of a high-profile politician!
Let's assume for an instant that indiscipline has as root cause a non-interest in academic fields: Let them work then! Why should we import workers from Bangladesh etc?