Riots on my doorstep

When the riots happened in the UK I felt a part of it because of family and friends who still live in the UK but not being there I couldn’t fully understand the situation. Well, no I have riots on my doorstep as local young people in Reunion have started rioting as well. Why? It started off with truck drivers protesting about petrol prices but then you people jumped in and used it as an excuse to show their anger at the high level of youth unemployment (60%).

“Youth unemployment is very high on the island … so it takes very little to push   young people over the edge”

“Riots are cyclical here; the last ones took place in 2009. It’s as if people had to blow their tops once in a while for the tension to come down again”

“With elections coming up, this is the young people’s chance to voice their grievances”

-Quotes from the local press.

Reunion is a small place, very small, so these kids are destroying shops where their friends and family shop or even work. This fact is very disturbing but as a teacher I have to wonder if I have taught any of these kids or if my friends have or if we know them or their families.

Unemployment is a serious problem everywhere but is education the solution? Surely with free university places up to PhD level and free bursaries, these kids would have more chances of employment? Many of them leave school at 18 but if there is no work why do they do it? Family pressure? Peer pressure? Or as the media would like us to believe, they just want to sponge off social security. If that is true then why are they rioting?

Is it a case of the education system failing them. After all, you still need good marks to get into uni. I know that many of the schools these kids go to are bad and have an air of failure from the teachers. They moan about their bad and ‘stupid’ students who will never do anything and who are all from Africa or nearby islands. This is a serious problem. Should they be integrated or should the teachers be educated. After all, I was always told “there is no such thing as a bad student, just a bad teacher”. Is this true? Can we change every student and help them create a new future, even if it clashes with their home situation and culture of relying on the state.

I do hope I make a difference to all my students but I know a few teachers who just see it as an easy job so much so that they just do it for the paid holidays. I don’t get paid holidays but I do try to stimulate my students and open their minds. Is this enough? I don’t know but I think it helps.

Do you make a difference in your setting?
How do/can you do it?
Here’s a video from the beginning of the riots. They are still in progress and spreading/moving.

Stigmates d’une nuit d’émeutes from stef974 on Vimeo.


END NOTE. After 1 week of rioting all food prices have been reduced and petrol. Everyone is happy that they can afford rice and basic vegetables. The riots were not really supported by the youths said it was the only way the islanders would be able to afford food.


8 thoughts on “Riots on my doorstep

  1. It’s a sad world we live in, Phil. I don’t think I make any difference in students’ lives. I try to get close to them, to be their friend, their confidant, but others look at it as suspicious behaviour.

    • Yes, that’s a fine line for male teachers. For women it’s often OK but for me it still an get suspicious questions. I’ve had a few schools say they won’t employ men to teach kids, even at uni we men did not get the same kind of treatment as female counterparts when visiting primary/elementary schools.

  2. Hi Phil,

    I don’t know how relevant this is for your situation, but Stephen Krashen has been making some seemingly valid points about the effect of people growing up in poverty on their education. He claims that people in poverty will find it hard to succeed because of a lack of access to food, health and books, no matter how they are taught.

    If this is true, then there is very little that an individual teacher can do, apart from providing access to books.

    I have no idea if poverty is a big factor in Reunion, but this might help explain the problems; poverty leads to little academic success which leads to more poverty. A vicious cirlce indeed.

    • Hi Stephen,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Yes, I have come to those conclusions myself when driving through the poor areas and seeing the schools but I still think a school and the teachers in it can make a difference. Some friends used to teach migrant worker kids in China and I helped them plan their courses/lessons. These were poor kids and they lived in tents or port-a-cabins while their fathers were driven round in the backs of trucks to live in tents for weeks on end on various building sites or road sides. Anyhow, they wanted to learn and tried their hardest. This was due to a major government drive and several NGO/charities but it seemed to be working. Far more than with my rich spoiled students who had money coming out of their ears.

      If Krashen is right then rich kids find it very easy. Well, if all they have to worry about is passing a course and not eating then yes.

      I would like to think that we can help poor kids through education but they have to change their mentality or at least have it changed before that can happen. This implies some kind of ‘teacher superiority’ as he/she is judging the student’s situation to be in need of improvement and deeming themselves as the solution. Maybe a more government down policy or movement would be better as the idea of a foreign teacher starting such a change could really be like old colonialism.

      This whole concept of what is acceptable and what should be changed is a very sticky one when working abroad I’ve found. I’d love to get local colleagues ideas but I don’t really have any so I’ll have to play it by ear. Any tips?

  3. The world is confusing, both sad and wonderful. If I didn’t think I could have an impact on my students, I’m not sure that I’d be nearly as motivated to teach. Honestly, I think we can have an impact, but it just all depends on the context, the students and how we are willing to play that fine line that you and Chiew mention. In a situation like you’re describing Phil, I can see how unemployment, desperation and anger can have a much bigger impact on people’s lives than their academic pursuits.

    In the end, we are not their parents. We are not their peers. We are people they can respect, though and I know without a doubt that there are a number of teachers who have shaped my life in no small way.

    • Cheers Brad.

      I hope they do respect me as I do them but that has taken time.

      When I ventured into primary teacher as a young man it seemed more about forming good children than teaching them English. In fact, 90 of teacher time seemed to be on instilling and reinforcing good behaviour. But what if this doesn’t work? That means the system fails some kids and it makes them, or rather doesn’t stop them from becoming outsiders in society. Maybe we need more ‘behaviour specialists’ or other measures to nip this in the bud. Arresting these kids just appears to be dealing with the symptoms but not the cause.

      From what I’ve seen today it just seems to be bored kids on bikes having fun. If these same kids are really unemployed then they live with their parents and may just have no freedom. According to my students it’s the local custom to live with your parents until 30+. I’m sure the combination of no job, freedom and parents is enough to create some hostility. Add to that the alleged high alcohol addiction rates and there’s a powerful combination for more trouble.

  4. The question of whether or not you can have “an impact” on students really depends on the scale of the impact you wish to have. If it’s a life-changing impact, that’s something of a rarity for both teachers and students. if it’s a minor impact, opening their minds to a new possibility or two, that is quite a bit more attainable, but still unlikely to be acheived for every student.

    The island is entirely dependant on French subsidies, the population is exploding, and the food autonomy the island had in generations past has been almost entirely eliminated by “modernization” and the vast mono-culture of sugar cane. Some estimate that unemployment amongst people under 30 is near 60%. Setting yourself up against these intractable economic difficulties seems unfair.

    • Hi Kate,

      Thanks for the dropping by.

      I’d actually say it’s higher, at least 70%. I have a lot of family teaching in ‘public schools’ and they are a wreck but same as in Paris.

      One rioter said that nobody will interview him for anything due to the bad area where he lives. One local government solution is now to integrate low incomes/immigrants buy giving them brand new flats with fitted kitchens and underground parking where they share a building with other types of people. However, the benefits the landlords get is so high that now many new blocks of flats have a maximum income rate ie only for people on benefits. The other is to put them in run down buildings right in the centre. Personally, finding/making jobs for young people should be the priority and giving them activities to do to improve themselves. I used to live in Bordeaux and the council set up fitness, kiddie and social facilities in every quarter so everyone had something to do even if they had no job.

      Basically, you are right, people are too reliant on France and spoiled. Now, they make their own power, grow their own food and are very techie-minded but still I had to wait 2 months for a cooker to be delivered from Marseille. Financially, it may be in France’s interests to give them independence but politically no.It’s become an overseas trade centre for dealings with China and Africa.

      Some people say that France only keeps Mayotte due to the amount of tax they bring in. The main immigrants here now are from Comoros islands who are pretty poor and many of the kids are not educated to the same level as French kids. This clash of developed, developed and underdeveloped is a serious problem for a teacher. We are used to students understanding the rules of the class but what if some don’t want to?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s