Editorial | Understanding crime in schools
We sense ambivalence, if not unease, in some quarters over the Government's proposed enhanced use of metal detectors at Jamaican high schools as part of violence-prevention efforts, as announced last week by the education minister, Ruel Reid.
Part of the concern, especially at this early stage of the project, it seems, is that the schools marked for attention - or the parents of children who attend them - fear being stigmatised as ungovernable institutions in need of extraordinary interventions.
We understand such anxieties, but neither the Government nor stakeholders should be detained by them. For, the larger issue is ensuring the security and safety of students and teachers in schools. While that can't be absolutely guaranteed by metal detectors, they may help while the society works on other long-term, sustainable strategies, including conflict-management skills among young people, as has been highlighted by Mr Reid.
Moreover, the problem of violence or other antisocial or disruptive behaviour in schools is not uniquely Jamaican. It is a growing worry in developed countries, too. A significant difference, though, is that apart from the economic resources developed countries may have to throw at the problem, their responses tend to be informed by data. Ours, it seems, is largely based on anecdotes and extrapolations from periodic incidents of extreme violence, such as last week's murder of a 15-year-old boy by a fellow student at Edith Dalton James High, and the reports of the emergence of gangs in some schools.
In other words, even though we believe that there are sound reasons, supported, in some instances, by hard evidence, for the education ministry's choice of the initial four high schools - Edith Dalton James and Norman Manley in Kingston; Anchovy High in St James; and Brown's Town High in St Ann - for the deployment of the first set of walk-through metal detectors, neither Minister Reid nor his officials pointed to any recent studies on violence in Jamaican schools. If there are, they haven't been shared with the public.
COMPARING JAMAICA WITH OTHER COUNTRIES
Such a study is necessary, this newspaper believes, not only to help guide the design of our anti-violence interventions, but to compare the situation in Jamaica with other countries and to determine best practices.
For instance, a 2015-16 survey by the US National Center for Education Statistics on crime, violence, discipline and safety in America's public schools found that approximately 69 per cent of the institutions recorded incidents of crime, at a rate of 17.5 per 1,000 students. But not all the cases were considered serious.
However, just fewer than 13,000 schools, or 15 per cent of the public institutions, recorded nearly 41,000 cases of violent incidents. But that was fewer than one per 100,000. Serious violent incidents accounted for 4.7 per cent of all matters characterised as criminal.
Other reports show that by 2013-14, ninety-three per cent of US public schools controlled access to their campuses and buildings and 75 per cent monitored their facilities with security cameras. While only four per cent had randomly used metal-detector checks, nearly a quarter had random dog searches. The latest survey found that 42 per cent of all public schools deployed resource or safety officers - a system roughly analogous to the police safety resource officer assigned to some Jamaican schools.
The problem of indiscipline and criminality is not as bad in British schools. However, a 2016 report by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said that 43 per cent of its members had to deal with at least one case of violence at their school in the previous year, including being physically assaulted by students. Last June, London Mayor Sadiq Khan offered metal/knife detectors to all of the city's secondary schools, as well as police officers as part of a 'safer school' programme. Mr Khan's initiative was a response not only to violence in schools, but the wider problem of knife crime in the British capital.
The bottom line: We know that Jamaica has a problem of discipline and criminality in schools, but what is not clear is how pervasive it really is, and, therefore, how best to allocate limited resources. We may also learn from others, rather than attempt to reinvent the wheel.