Tue | Apr 7, 2020

Editorial | Classroom crisis

Published:Saturday | February 22, 2020 | 12:15 AM

Swift, precise action is now needed to reduce the level of violence in our schools. In the last few weeks, teacher- student conflicts appear to have escalated in many of our institutions of learning.

It could be that the graphic images now instantly available through social media have helped to reinforce the perception that schools are becoming dangerous places. Still, the regularity with which violence against school officials is being reported is troubling.

It is well documented that many schools are grappling with staff and resource shortages, inadequate security, boys’ under-performance, and gang activity, which suggest elements of a crisis.

What is not well documented is the extent to which school administrators are confronted with external threats such as the intervention of parents and gunmen and the challenge to their authority by unruly students.

Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Education, Karl Samuda, while not acknowledging the crisis the sector faces, has promised action to address the lack of security in many of our schools. The minister says he intends to deploy safety and security support officers through the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) programme, and will introduce1,000 hand-held metal detectors and other devices to address the long-standing weaknesses in security at our schools.

If the minister keeps his promise, that would be a great leap in making the school environment safer. But we need also to consider those within the walls of the schools. How well prepared are guidance counsellors and deans of discipline to identify and assist students who are vulnerable? How do these professionals treat with children who show signs of mental health disorder? Are there enough professionals within the school system to undertake the necessary intervention? Who prepares the teacher to deal with a possible assault?

It is imperative that ways be found to reduce the stress levels of teachers so that, instead of worrying about which student is likely to punch them in the face, they can get on with the business of teaching and shaping the young minds of their charges.

Driving teachers away

It is predicted that these unruly students and their enabling parents and armed cohorts will eventually drive more teachers from the classroom, thereby contributing to the ongoing high attrition rates.

Schools are, of course, reflective of the society. Jamaica is a violent country, and violence is the preferred method of settling domestic and other disputes. Since children live what they learn, it is not surprising that they act out behaviours they see in their homes and communities.

All the evidence points to trauma at home or in the community as triggers for disruptive behaviour in schools. Many of these children may be simply seeking help, and mentoring could play a big role, as well as getting them involved in after-school programmes which will engage them in a meaningful way.

Somehow, there are schools that continue to consistently deliver a high quality of education to their students who go on to excel both here and overseas where incidents of disruptive behaviour are few or non-existent. We cannot, however, discount the input of dedicated teachers, receptive students and cooperative parents and alumni, all working together to ensure these results.

We suggest that we take the laudable elements from these high-performing schools and replicate them in the weaker schools. Our response to this crisis is critical as we continue to prepare Jamaica’s future generations. There has to be systemic planning, legislation, investment and a belief in the capabilities of the next generation.