THE EDITOR, Sir:
THIS LETTER follows the Jamaica Teachers' Association's call for a national focus on the health and nutrition of our students (Gleaner, April 7) and the Ministry of Education commissioned psychosocial assessments of thousands of children who have failed the Grade Four Literacy test four times. These assessments found that "more than 80 per cent of the failing children were experiencing difficulties learning, not because they cannot learn, but because of external factors beyond their control." (Sunday Gleaner, April 8). According to the Gleaner report, these results "have prompted the Ministry of Education to list students' emotional adjustment as a priority issue."
Sir, perhaps at last we are beginning to see the light! A holistic approach to education is essential if we are to release the enormous potential in all of our children. This means a focus on nutrition, physical exercise, pedagogy (how our teachers teach) and appropriate discipline methods.
We are wasting millions of dollars on education if a significant number of our children cannot learn in class - nor can the most starved control their behaviour - because hunger is affecting the functioning of their brain. There is a great deal of hunger in our land at this moment. We need to support the suggestions of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition for free breakfast programmes at all schools for all children who need them. All schools should provide low-cost subsidised lunches for students and PATH students should get the same lunch free.
The Ministry of Health needs to exercise its mandate and ensure that its fellow ministry mandates healthy lifestyles as part of school programmes. All students should have physical education on their timetable twice a week. These are the very times when the toxins built up by stress need to be released in exercise. The brain will actually function better.
All schools need to adopt teaching styles that recognise multiple intelligence among students. Not all students respond best to the reading-and-writing teaching style (blackboard, endless notes). Some respond better to visuals, others to discussion.
Teachers are coping with great challenges but corporal punishment is not the answer. Following an education campaign and training for teachers in alternative methods of discipline (which will be greatly helped by better pedagogy), the Ministry of Education needs to pass the regulations in Parliament outlawing the violence of corporal punishment in our schools.