Editorial: Community response to school violence
Two more Jamaican male students have had their education disrupted by violence. One is dead and the other is in police custody. What happened at Brown's Town High School on Thursday has an all-too-familiar ring, as more and more violent confrontations are recorded in our school community.
The latest victim is a Jamala Barnaby, a grade-11 student of Brown's Town High. The news could have been worse because three other students were injured in another incident in Spanish Town earlier this week.
Sadly, when these incidents occur, one is tempted to conclude that schools are no longer safe places of learning but, instead, battlefields where only the fittest survive. Data from the Ministry of Education put the matter in perspective: For the period 2011 to 2013, a total of 1,288 violent incidents were recorded in the nation's schools. These included robberies, fights and three deaths.
However, there are more than 700,000 students on roll in public schools, and, from Ministry of Education data, most of the students involved in violent confrontations exhibited disruptive behaviour prior to these headline-grabbing incidents.
In November 2004, the Safe Schools project was launched with the primary objective of reducing violence in at-risk schools. In all, 89 'troubled' schools in St James, St Ann, St Elizabeth and Kingston and St Andrew were targeted. Members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force were trained as school resource officers and were given the task of mentoring students, quelling disputes and identifying potential trouble areas, and conducting searches for weapons.
And the education ministry has gone further to reorient guidance counsellors and deans of discipline to new strategies in behavioural management to better deal with school violence and to involve parents in training programmes. But despite these initiatives aimed at decreasing school violence, it seems there is no letting up in the intensity of school disputes and the deadly consequences.
Many people argue that the children are merely mirroring the behaviour they see in their homes, communities and the wider society. For example, not much discussion has taken place about the increasing indiscipline on football fields where there are reported confrontations involving coaches, players and spectators. But these are some glaring examples that are placed before students.
Violence has become such a part of our daily lives, it now has a numbing effect on most people. And it has spilled over into the school community. The solution must, therefore, involve community leaders.
So what should be the appropriate response of the community when such an incident occurs? Brown's Town is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a garrison, it is a thriving rural community that is home to a number of prominent high schools. This gives a good indication that school violence is not confined to urban inner-city areas.
Will the citizens of Brown's Town acknowledge that this blot on their community demands action on their part, and will they feel the urge to come together and help mitigate violence within their midst?
We believe that the collaborative efforts of parents, school officials, the police and community members could contribute to a reduction in conflicts that lead to school violence.