House passes motion for taskforce to end school violence

Inside Parliament

With Alicia Dunkley

Sunday, November 29, 2009

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LEGISLATORS on Friday gave the nod to a motion calling for a taskforce to be put in place to deal with school-based violence and indiscipline as a matter of urgency.

Government senator and principal of the Hydel Group of Schools, Hyacinth Bennett, who brought the resolution, said it came against the background that school-based violence and general indiscipline in some of the nation's schools continued to "wreak untold trauma'" and "grievous loss of precious lives within schools and the general society".

Citing figures from an informal assessment - which she said showed a majority support for corporal punishment which has been outlawed in schools - Bennett stopped short of stating whether she was in favour of the disciplinary method.

"I had discussions with people about this issue, and I was amazed when I spoke to some middle-class professionals. they told me return to corporal punishment," Bennett told the Upper House.

She said a "personally conducted" survey comprising 320 persons from the parishes of St Catherine, Kingston and St Andrew and St Mary showed that 270 or 84 per cent of persons questioned were in support of corporal punishment.

"Eight-four per cent said they would rather apply the paddling to the appropriate part of the anatomy now, than having to pay psychologists to correct that errant child later on," Bennett said.

She further quoted from an unnamed source, stating that of the reported incidents which took place in 14 Jamaican schools in 2009 (six rural schools and eight in the St Catherine and Kingston) there were five cases of assault occasioning bodily harm, five cases of gang violence and use of offensive weapons, four cases of extortion and assault at common law, three cases of wounding, one case of indecent assault, one threat and two murders.

"It should be remembered that the majority of cases in the schools do not get reported," Bennett said, noting that "a number of youth are on a path of ruin, and seem to portray a deep inner sickness".

Bennett said the taskforce, which should comprise the relevant education stakeholders, could "examine the existing strategies against school-based indiscipline with a view to arriving at new approaches and/or returning to effective workable age old strategies of disciplining the youth".

However, the motion was passed only after an amendment proposed by Opposition Senators was made. The Opposition said while it was in support of the motion, the term "relevant education stakeholders was a very elastic definition" and suggested instead that the taskforce comprise not only education stakeholders, but religious leaders, security personnel and behavioural scientists as well".

"This is something we just had to agree on," Leader of Opposition Business in the House Senator AJ Nicholson said.

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