Tue | Aug 14, 2018

Ministry targets behaviour modification for students

Published:Monday | September 1, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer

A strategy that is being used in 21,000 schools in the United States to prevent behavioural problems and develop social skills among students is being implemented by Jamaica's Ministry of Education.

With the backing of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the ministry's Guidance and Counselling Unit invited more than 100 representatives from 56 high and primary schools to a two-day workshop in St Ann as the first step in getting the system, titled the School-Wide Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support (SWPBIS), implemented locally.

The workshop was conducted by Dr George Sugai, director for the Center for Behavioural Education and Research in Connecticut. Sugai is considered an expert in the field and is one of the founders of the SWPBIS framework.

"The work that I do is unique in that it organises intervention so that all children can be successful," Sugai told The Gleaner.

"We have about 21,000 schools in the United States who have adopted or have been trained on School-Wide PBIS.

"The outcomes have been reduction in serious problem behaviour, reduction in reactive management, which is sort of punishment; improvement in academic outcomes, improvement in school safety and climate; and improvement in parents' perceptions of the quality of the school. So the outcomes have been very good."

takes up to three years

Usually it takes between one to three years, depending on the school, for a positive climate to be established at the institution.

"I think the strategies are simple," Sugai explained. "The hard part is getting it to become part of the habit of the school, so it becomes more positive."

One of the topics that came up at the workshop was that of social skills.

Sugai stressed that social skills have to be taught directly as children do not learn them automatically.

"Many kids have bad habits that don't allow them to get the social skills correctly the first time, so we've been trying to help the staff understand that teaching social skills, or life skills, is just like teaching academics. More importantly, we have to acknowledge kids for their social success just like we acknowledge them for their academic success."

Fern McFarlane, assistant chief education officer in the ministry's Guidance and Counselling Unit, said the ministry had implemented behaviour-modification programmes in the past but said they had not addressed all areas of concern.

Joan Neufville, acting vice-principal at Spanish Town High School, told The Gleaner that she was happy for the new approach.

"I'm very, very happy because coming out of the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) report, our school has many challenges," she remarked.

"We were specially selected to be here to learn from this workshop in order to implement strategies for improvement academically and also our interpersonal relationships with each other, our social behaviour."

The 2013 NEI report said the overall effectiveness of Spanish Town High School was in need of immediate support. The report also said the students' personal and social development was unsatisfactory.

Neufville said the contents of the workshop were quite fitting for the needs of her school.

"This workshop is really up the street where the (school) board wants to go, putting the past behind and going forward with a positive outlook in every aspect," Neufville said.