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JTA president knocks ministry's interpretation of study data

BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive editor — publications davidsonv@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, January 23, 2014    

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JAMAICA Teachers' Association (JTA) President Dr Mark Nicely says he has no issue with the data provided by a police study on education and crime. He does, however, have a problem with the education ministry's interpretation of the statistics.

According to Dr Nicely, labelling a number of schools as producers of prisoners is "very unfortunate" and contradicts the ministry's push to end discrimination against non-traditional high schools.

"The Ministry of Education cannot be, on the one hand, saying 'it is not about the school, it is about when you go to the school what you do at the school', and then on the other hand labelling schools as producing inmates, because the natural propensity of a parent is going to be to avoid these schools. It is natural," Dr Nicely told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

"So this is further retarding these schools' ability to attract relatively good academic students, and it is retarding our general ability as a county to say it's not about the school," he added.

To support his point, Dr Nicely pointed to the fact that Vauxhall, an upgraded high school, produced this year's Rhodes scholar.

The JTA president was responding to findings of the study presented in the Parliament on Tuesday by Education Minister Ronald Thwaites.

The study, conducted by the Jamaica Constabulary Force's Research, Planning and Legal Services Branch, sampled 894 prison inmates and their backgrounds, including the schools they attended.

The report identified 18 schools which were largely attended by individuals now in prison and named four non-traditional high schools -- Kingston High, Holy Trinity High, Vauxhall High, and Norman Manley High -- as well as traditional high school Jamaica College as among those that stood out.

Accompanying the police study was a Ministry Paper tabled by Thwaites explaining that 56 schools needed special attention.

Thwaites told the House that his ministry had established a committee to develop a special pre-emptive intervention through the school system in partnership with the Ministry of National Security's Unite for Change project.

"When fully implemented, it should significantly contribute to the reduction of crime in Jamaica, over the medium to long term," Thwaites said in the Parliament.

But yesterday, Dr Nicely said that the schools were not where the problem has its genesis.

"The reality is quite the contrary, that had it not been for schools and the service we offer as educators, we would have far more inmates or criminals in our society," he told the Observer.

"The real problem is not to do with the schools, it is a societal problem," he argued. "Many of the challenges we have in schools never originated in schools, they 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."

He said it was unfortunate that non-traditional high schools were highlighted by the study as many of them are under-resourced and saddled with challenges.

"What would be interesting to know is where many of the students come from. I would bet that many of them come from low socio-economic environments," he said.

"The minister is now saying that he is going to give support to those schools. I don't have a problem with that, but it should simultaneously signal to the Government that they need to give support to those communities from which these children come, because the problem is not a school problem; the school is actually a part of the solution and not a part of the problem," he said.

"And, while the schools need support, we need to move away from hypocrisy and recognise that we have a major societal problem," Dr Nicely added.

"I would love to hear an announcement from the Government about an initiative now, in light of this finding, to treat with the communities, crime and violence, corruption, because it is all of these factors that are manifesting themselves in the schools, and the schools must be applauded for their efforts," the JTA president said.

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