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Prison study not meant to disgrace named schools — Thwaites

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, January 25, 2014    

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EDUCATION Minister Ronald Thwaites says the naming of 18 schools that were most frequently featured in a study sample of inmates to examine their educational and socio-economic backgrounds was not meant to "disgrace or shame" any institution.

According to the report — conducted by the Research, Planning and Legal Services Branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday by the education minister — 894 inmates were interviewed during the study, which meant that more than 700 of interviewees attended schools other than those listed. Thirty were foreign nationals.

"I am not the author of the study, but the names were called; there is no intention to disgrace anyone. I take it that the authors of the study and the Ministry of Education, what we intended to do was point to those schools as instances where particular assistance and help would be needed and available. To say that there is a problem is not to invite disgrace," the minister told journalists while speaking at Thursday's post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House.

"If you call schools failing schools and leave it at that, that is wrong; but if they are named and there is a clear programme stated before any naming of what you are going to do in order to improve the situation, how could it possibly be the intent of the Ministry of Education to demean the character or the repute of any of its own schools? We are responsible for them and they to us. We intend to hurt nobody," Thwaites maintained.

In the meantime, the education minister said it was important to note that principals and teachers alone cannot bear all the load, hence his presentation of several measures on Tuesday to involve communities, parents, and the police.

"That was the basis of the ministry putting forward a preventative initiative within schools to ameliorate Jamaica's crime problem. As far as I know, nothing has ever been done of that nature before. The study, which is clearly entitled 'Education and Crime: Evidence from Prison Inmates in Jamaica Report 2012'... was shown to me by the minister [Bunting] and it was used as the news and should be used as a hook for us to move forward," he stated.

He said the duty goes much further than identifying schools "where there has been a graduation, in some respects, of their students into the criminal subculture".

"The study identifies a number of communities from which many long-serving criminals come. It also indicates something to me, which is of prime importance, which is that the large majority of those students come from weak families, instances where fathers are absent or where there have been unsatisfactory relationships between mothers and fathers," he pointed out.

He further argued that "the evidence or the findings of the study are by no means being released for the first time".

"They have been in the public domain for some time though not noticed. The ministry — through it's National Education Inspectorate (NEI) — has identified over 50 schools, including those where there are significant social deficiencies which unfortunately are cramping education," the education minister pointed out. He added that teachers sometimes have to spend 20 to 25 minutes of a class simply restoring order because of social challenges of children.

He said, beginning next month, the ministry will begin a process of identification and diagnosis of those children who clearly have behavioural and other dysfunctions whether they are brought to its attention or identified when ministry officials visit schools.

"These are not mantles of disgrace, these should produce no tears but rather should be occasions for us to recognise and call for help because the help is available and should come from entire communities if we are serious about allaying the scourge of crime," Minister Thwaites said.

In the meantime, National Security Minister Peter Bunting said the backlash over the identification of the schools has been a case of "majoring in the minors" and "peripheral to the point" the study was making.

"First of all, I don't think anything there is inconsistent with a whole body of authoritative studies by academic and health officials. But the central theme is that the schools provide a critical opportunity for intervention, resocialisation and for diversion from the criminal gang future for these young peopl, in particular young men, and that is the point," he contended.

Of the 894 inmates surveyed, 357 had dropped out of school before Grade 11 and had no subjects; 124 reached Grade 11, but had no subjects; 60 graduated with subjects; 52 went on to tertiary institutions; 59 went into vocational and other areas; and 11 dropped out but gained subjects later on. In terms of their reasons for leaving school, 155 listed financial difficulties; 92 were uncontrollable, or just stopped going; 77 were either expelled or didn't return to school after suspension; 15 migrated; 12 got arrested; 27 listed lack of support; 31 stated gang or political violence; 14 of the 43 females left school due to pregnancy; and 196 had completed schooling.

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