Mon | Sep 23, 2019

JTA clueless about new mental health curriculum for schools … New syllabus to roll out September

Published:Sunday | August 25, 2019 | 12:09 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer
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The announcement that a mental health curriculum will be introduced in schools this September has taken the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) by surprise.

State minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Alando Terrelonge, had made the declaration recently. However, according to the body that represents the nation’s teachers, school administrators were in the dark about the initiative.

“We know nothing. We only heard about it in the media like anyone else. It’s not the first time that the ministry has made these grand announcements. They always do it. Announcement first, and explanation later,” outgoing JTA president Garth Anderson told The Sunday Gleaner.

While making it clear that he was not bashing the initiative, as there were a lot of troubled children in schools and the society at large, Anderson stated, “ we do not know who will be dispensing this kind of intervention. We do not know what is in the guidance and counselling provision that will allow them to dispense this intervention. We don’t know if it’s all teachers who will participate. We just don’t know.”

Incoming JTA president Owen Speid was just as puzzled, stating, “I heard mention of this at some meeting, sometime ago. Since then nobody heard anything until this announcement. No meeting with the JTA membership, no details, nothing.”

Adding that he was not against the initiative, Speid said, “It seems easy to make announcements. But the difference between reality and announcements is what we are concerned about.”

According to him, the absence of a full-time education minister has given rise to “announcements without substance” and an “impression is that anything goes at the ministry”.

“Let us watch and see how long such an important ministry will remain without a minister,” he said.

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has been without a full-time minister since Ruel Reid was forced to resign in March this year, amid corruption allegations involving the ministry and institutions for which it has responsibility.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness took charge of the ministry, and appointed Minister Without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister Karl Samuda the task to deal with education.

MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES WIDESPREAD

Last year, chief executive officer of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency, Rosalee Gage-Grey, said a high percentage of Jamaican teens between 14 and 17 years were experiencing mental health issues, and the problem was compounded by the severe shortage of mental health specialists in the public sector to deal with the affected children.

Citing a UNICEF study using 400 children in residential care in St Catherine, Kingston and St Andrew, she said it revealed that more than 50 per cent of wards were suffering from mental health issues. At the same time, she said community interventions by field officers within her organisation showed that the problem was widespread and not limited to children in state care.

Last year October, World Mental Health Day was celebrated under the theme ‘Young People and Mental Health in A Changing World’.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com