The pain and hurt in our schools is for all of us to bear

Friday, January 24, 2014    

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There's merit in the arguments presented by both sides in the current education debate.

The Ministry of Education's proposal to assist schools to deal adequately with student behaviour is worth embracing, while the teachers' union, the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), has rightly pointed to the fact that the conduct of students, in many instances, is influenced by the communities in which they live.

According to Dr Mark Nicely, the JTA president, many of the challenges now being faced by schools "originated in the society, in the communities, in the homes".

"It is a societal, systemic problem which manifests itself in schools and which, to a great extent, we treat with as a means of resolving these conflicts," Dr Nicely told this newspaper on Wednesday.

We, of course, share his analysis, as we have been pointing to that fact in this space for many years -- certainly from the days when former Prime Minister PJ Patterson went on his drive to improve values and attitudes throughout the country.

Unfortunately, at that time, many people turned their noses up at Mr Patterson's position. We are now experiencing the upshot of that snub.

The current brouhaha over the Jamaica Constabulary Force study on education and crime could easily have been avoided, we believe, had the education ministry engaged the teachers and schools before Minister Ronald Thwaites spoke on the issue in Parliament on Tuesday.

We suspect that had that been done, it would have led to fruitful discussions on the problems and guided the education ministry's response to the study. For, as we understand it, many schools across the island already have programmes designed to improve student behaviour.

However, the proposals made by the ministry in the Ministry Paper tabled by Mr Thwaites on Tuesday have value and should not be dismissed.

Regardless of how skilled our teachers are in dealing with students with behavioural problems, we cannot foresee any of them ignoring the training opportunities that the ministry says it will begin providing next month.

What the education ministry needs to do, however, is acknowledge the relevance of the programmes now being run in the schools and, if necessary, adjust its proposals to address areas of weakness, if any.

The JTA, on the other hand, should encourage its members to examine the Ministry Paper and embrace the proposals that can enhance their programmes.

Essentially, for all that to happen, both sides need to simply cool down and start talking.

Too often, important issues are bogged down in semantics and quarrels about the 'how' rather than the 'why'. The essential truth is that we all in this society have to grapple with the pain and hurt which is the behaviour of too many of our children, whatever the cause. And it can't be left without remedy.

So while we express our concerns about how things are stated in a report, let us never lose sight of the real issue. We do so at our own peril.





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