Bulletproofing Schools

July 9 2010 – An eleven-year old was shot whilst watching a Maths class in his school. Wesley Gilbert de Andrade is one of the many victims of stray bullets in Rio de Janeiro. His school is located 200 meters from a slum that is in constant conflict because of the drug mafias. Journalists from the newspaper O Globo, who had been working as volunteers in the school to compile material for a story, had asked Wesley and his classmates what was the main problem of society. Wesley answered: the gunfire.

The school where Wesley studied was a school located in a high risk zone; near a shanty town with conflicts and three students have already been hit by stray bullets. There are about 200 of these schools in Rio, about 100,000 students affected and 5,000 teachers. There has been talk of bulletproofing these schools to protect the people inside them.

This is one of those things that will be thrown around for a while by everyone involved – and then finally it will vanish when people focus on a different shocking story. It is a useless emergency measure – one that I am sure will not even leave the clipboard – that is worth discussing.

As Wesley said, the main problem of society is the gunfire. When responding to the press, Rio’s education secretary, Claudia Costin, clearly wanted it to show important discussions were taking place to minimize the people’s outrage. This measure will no doubt protect the people at high risk area schools but it is not in any way a solution to the deaths caused by the stray bullets.

It is a way to ignore the real problem; the drug conflicts don’t only affect the children in the nearby schools. In fact, most people in the shanty towns are not criminals, they are working families who live under the dictatorship of the drug lords.

In the first 3 months of 2008 75 people were victims of stray bullets, 8 of which were fatal wounds. With this in mind – and many other statistics that can be easily found online – I can say that the problem is not the poor security of schools – as it seems to be for some daft people who actually exercise some kind of power over my country – but the government’s failure to clean the city of fire arms and drugs. Somehow the problem has become something we must protect ourselves from and not solve.

In a country where the school system is horrible – so much so that the upper class rarely settles for public schooling – how can bulletproofing even be considered? In a country where public school teachers are extremely underpaid – especially at high risk area schools, where the teachers life is in danger – can we even afford to bulletproof 200 schools? And if we can, isn’t it better to raise the teachers’ salaries, train them better, or even buy more books to teach the children?

And don’t even get me started on the 2014 World Cup.

~ The motivation for this comment article is an article recently posted on The Guardian‘s website about bulletproofing schools in Rio de Janeiro. ~

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