Editorial | Another school killing
Another schoolboy is dead. Another life wasted. This is all-too-familiar news with multiple incidents of school violence being reported from parish to parish, with regularity. The life of a 15-year-old student came to a violent end during an altercation with another student at Edith Dalton James High School in Kingston. He was stabbed. Yet another incident that challenges the notion that schools are supposed to be safe havens where teaching and learning is the focus.
This latest school killing has brought to the fore the extent to which domestic violence has become a scourge of Jamaican life. Crime and violence permeates many communities. There seems to be no end to violence that confronts people, whether at home, at school, on public transport, at the workplace, in church, and even in social settings.
After each death, we rehash the familiar talking points about violence in our society. We call for a return to old-time values and attitudes, make suggestions and recommendations, but nothing seems to work. The statistics keep climbing. And this happens despite the fact that some schools now have security/safety officers and multiple guidance counsellors.
Media reports suggest that a normal day at most schools may involve any of the following: physical assault, robbery, bullying, verbal assault, sexual assault, drug abuse, and the carrying of dangerous weapons. The impression, therefore, is that teachers spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with school-based violence instead of focusing on effective teaching and learning.
We firmly believe the violence must be contextualised within the home and community. School-based violence does not occur in a vacuum. It is greatly influenced and shaped by what happens in the home and community.
The old adage that 'children live what they learn' has to be applied in any conversation about school violence. The daily killings in communities and the easy access to weapons are likely to have a profound effect on the children and their development. Children mirror the behaviour they see around them. Not only does it affect their academic performance, it is also likely to impact their vulnerability to violence and antisocial behaviours as adolescents.
There is no getting around the fact that social media is bombarding the youth with scenes of violence, and the images are readily accessible on their cell phones. So much so that a student is more likely to take photos of a violent scene than to offer assistance. There is a need to monitor the influence of social media on students.
Make environment safer
What can policymakers do to make the school environment safer for the nation's children as they seek to equip themselves for life? We suggest that consideration be given to introducing an integrated strategy that involves an expansion of the current early childhood programme.
We suggest further that these efforts be located within a broader framework of a crime-prevention strategy that addresses community violence. There also needs to be strong referral systems within the schools to ensure that troubled students are able to get remedial support.
Let's focus on the role of parents, for whatever strategy is devised, parents must be seen as an integral part of the solution.
Many parents could benefit from conflict-resolution skills training themselves. Parents, being the first teachers, must take responsibility for instilling a sense of what is right and wrong in their children. They should also be actively involved in their children's educational pursuits, including attending school meetings.
We feel it is important to restate what has been said repeatedly: that it will take the combined effort of school leadership, parents, policymakers and community leaders to effectively address school violence.
Predictably, after nine days, grief counsellors who were dispatched to the Edith Dalton James High School would have filed away their reports and are perhaps preparing to move to another location. The answer of how to restore our schools to spaces of peace may be postponed for another time.