Mon | Mar 30, 2020

David Salmon | Curing indiscipline in education, not with corporal punishment

Published:Sunday | March 1, 2020 | 12:29 AM

The recent incidence of violent interactions at the primary and secondary school level between teachers and students has caused a renewed focus on the nation’s education system. Particularly, more attention has been placed on the culture of aggression that has permeated our school system, with the question being asked as to whether violence in schools is simply a reflection of the wider society.

These occurrences are not new, but technology has amplified access to more incidents each day. When factoring in Jamaica’s social environment, the recent spate of altercations reflect a problem long in the making that can be linked to our children’s socialisation.

Quite frankly, incidents of violence in schools occur as a result of inadequate socialisation at the early childhood level. Inadequate socialisation does not only take place on the part of students, but also on the part of parents. This situation is further magnified throughout the education system due to underinvestment in remedial specialists and sufficient guidance counsellors in schools. The problem is further compounded with insufficiently trained teachers who possess limited skills in effective behaviour-management strategies.

Corporal punishment not first solution

And yet, our first solution to indiscipline in schools should not be a reintroduction of corporal punishment. Using this strategy, with an “unsocialised” inherently violent society will simply lead to more instances of recorded conflicts that plaster news outlets.

Furthermore, given the change in generations, external influence and the shift in worldwide trends, this strategy is not an option. When examining the situation, it is clear that re-education and societal re-engineering is needed for Jamaica to mature out of its social malaise. Jamaica has never fully grasped the importance of addressing our most fundamental problems at the basic level with effective socialisation and by providing sufficient resources for effective behaviour modification.

Solving the country’s quagmire of issues begins with identifying the best stage of intervention. That is at the early childhood level. Building an effective foundation starts with creating effective institutions that are equipped to appropriately educate our nation’s children. Sociologist and Harvard Professor Orlando Patterson emphasised this point in his recent book, The Confounding Island, when he argued that implementing robust institutions is more sustainable in achieving lasting development than merely introducing good policies.

Early childhood education presents the best opportunity for this intervention given the important development stage that a child enters. The study, Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8, revealed that “young children thrive when they have secure, positive relationships with adults who are knowledgeable about how to support their development and learning”.

During a child’s early years, they are most vulnerable to learning behaviour that can lead to positive or negative developmental outcomes. Therefore, it is counterproductive to have a nation of over 2,700 early childhood institutions with the vast majority not certified by the Early Childhood Commission, according to their 12 operational standards.

While some commendable investment is being made in this regard, given the dearth of resources, more attention is needed. Current investment levels can be likened to giving a surf board to a new swimmer to brave a tsunami. Without effective policy implementing mechanisms at the early childhood level, Jamaica’s challenges will continue to be unresolved.

Consequently, another factor we must address, through societal re-engineering, is the sacrosanct role that parents play in the cognitive development of their children.

The scope of the formal school system is limited, especially when the majority of our children live in households with less than ideal circumstances, whether these households are abusive, underserved, or led by single parents.

To ameliorate the negative environment that our nation’s children live in, training of our parents must be a priority. During a recent discussion I had with the Prime Minister, he struck the right chord when he posited that parents must be held accountable and play a more active role in the discipline and development of their children as it is not possible to solve every issue with the education system.

Bearing this in mind, it was refreshing reading about the progress made by Dr Christine Stennett with parents at the Boys’ Town Family Care Centre (FCC). The FCC has made tremendous progress inculcating parenting skills like behavioural management in both fathers and mothers while also achieving its dual role of facilitating opportunities for parents to acquire further skills to develop a career.

This model should be formalised and expanded across the country, with training sessions being hosted by the National Parents Teachers’ Association in conjunction with other social-intervention programmes. By expanding the training of new and young parents in appropriate parental skills, more progress can be made in transforming education in Jamaica. Intervening at this level is the best way to achieve social improvements.

Address toxic assumptions

Nevertheless, we must first address the toxic assumption that the majority of our nation’s fathers shirk responsibility for their children as soon as they are born. Research shows that the vast majority of fathers are involved in their children’s lives, in some way, in the early years. The JA KIDS Study, conducted by The University of the West Indies Department of Child and Adolescent Health, found that 80 per cent of fathers provided financial support during pregnancy, with more than 70 per cent providing social support during this time.

As Dr Maureen Samms-Vaughan noted in her In Focus article in November last year, “Up to the age of 18 months, nine out of every 10 fathers were engaged with their children.”

The study reveals that the fall of paternal involvement began by the age of four, with just under two-thirds of mothers reporting to still being in a relationship with the father. Yet she noted that “though there was a decline in father engagement … the vast majority of fathers were still in their children’s lives”.

This research reveals that intervening in parental training while children are progressing through the early childhood level is the best way to capture both parents in the process of societal re-engineering.

Let us start by taking a proactive long-term approach to solving some of our challenges in education. Without this targeted approach to early childhood intervention both on the part of children and parents, social development will continue to remain a lofty unachievable goal.

David Salmon is a first-year public policy and management student at The University of the West Indies. To send feedback, he may be contacted at davidsalmon@live.com.