Mariko Kagoshima | Back to school without fear
This is a special monthly opinion series running from May to November in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a broad set of commitments that world leaders made to children. Jamaica ratified the CRC in 1991. The articles will focus on violence against children.
For many children, the much-anticipated return to school this week will be an inevitable mix of anxiety and excitement. It will be the end of their vacation, but they will also be looking forward to a year of learning, building new life skills, and most of all, playing with their friends.
Sadly, for too many of our boys and girls, back-to-school comes with fear – fear that limits their potential to learn and add to the future of this country. It may have been violence that occurred in their communities during the summer, or threats that exist on the journey to school, or that which occurs within the corridors and classrooms that should be safe havens.
Here are some facts:
- One out of three students aged 13-15 years old has been in at least one physical fight in the last year.
- One out of four adolescents 13-15 years old has been the victim of bullying in schools.
- Almost a third of students fear going to school because of bullying.
- Bullying does not happen in a vacuum:
- Nine in 10 students have seen a child bullied at school.
- While 75 per cent said that they reported it, only 34 per cent actually found that this made a difference.
Despite these very troubling facts, bullying and peer violence are not the only threat that children are facing at school.
CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IS STILL LAWFUL IN JAMAICAN SCHOOLS
Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly mandates that children be protected from violent discipline while at school, outlining that “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention”.
Yet, in Jamaica, children above six years old lack full legal protection from this form of violence. While there is limited data about children’s exposure to corporal punishment by teachers, corporal punishment is still lawful in Jamaican schools – with the exception of early childhood institutions.
There is no provision against the use of corporal punishment in the Education Act 1965 or in the Education Regulations 1980, and teachers are justified in administering “moderate and reasonable” corporal punishment under common law.
UNICEF believes that all forms of violence against children are unacceptable and must be eradicated. We note that corporal punishment is still widely accepted in the society as a means of “discipline”. However, we are encouraged because there are important allies among the decision-makers as well as social influencers who recognise its harmful effects and want to end it, as do we.
To help reduce incidents of violence against children in schools – among other violations of children’s rights – UNICEF promotes the concept of child-friendly schools.
Child-friendly schools are child-centered – focused on creating an environment that is physically safe, emotionally secure, and psychologically enabling for every student. They are inclusive – welcoming all students, regardless of age, gender, ability, or socio-economic background.
WORKING TO MAKE MORE JAMAICAN SCHOOLS CHILD-FRIENDLY
In child-friendly schools, students have a say about the structure, content, and process of their education, along with other stakeholders. Families are closely involved with a child-friendly school’s efforts to motivate and support students.
UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information to make more Jamaican schools child-friendly.
Together, we developed the School-Wide Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support framework – a school community-wide approach that seeks to encourage and reward positive behaviour by adopting a set of common values that children embrace such as respect, honesty, and teamwork. For example, the ‘Gotcha!’ system at Maxfield Park Primary School seeks to ‘catch children’ doing good and then reward them accordingly.
We believe that this project is promising as it helps schools shift their social culture towards more affirmative modes of education, relying largely on training and sharing of experiences and best practices.
We are also supporting the leadership capacity enhancement of the principals, recognising their critical role in developing a great school culture through an online leadership training course on crafting inclusive, gender-balanced, interactive, child-friendly learning environments. The digital course will soon be made available to principals.
We are invested in these efforts because we believe strongly that among all the lessons that children learn in school, violence should never be one of them.
- Mariko Kagoshima is UNICEF Jamaica Representative. Email feedback to email@example.com