"SCHOOL is not a romping shop, school is a place for learning," Education Minister Rev Ronald Thwaites declared yesterday, in defiance of popular street culture that is seeping into state-run schools.
Thwaites said that the insistence of school administrators that students wear their proper uniforms — "those (supporting the correct) standards of dress and (decrying) the tight pants and the short skirt" — should be supported as an important step towards resurrecting discipline in these institutions.
"This is to be supported, school is not a romping shop, school is a place for learning," the education minister insisted in a speech opening the debate on an Act paving the way for the establishment of the National Parenting Support Commission.
At the start of the school year, earlier this month, several students were turned away from the newly opened Steer Town Academy and at least one school in St Andrew after their attire was deemed inappropriate. In those cases, the boys were sent beyond the school gate, similarly several females whose skirts stopped inches above the required length.
Addressing Parliament, Thwaites said that "more recently what can be called the socially destructive hedonistic tendencies of this society has caused us to reduce the influence of parents".
He said that a resurgence of simple things such as making sure children are at home by a certain hour in the evening would go a long way towards "clearing up some of the mayhem that goes on at the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre right now, and in many other parish capitals where young people gather in unsupervised situations for hours and hours, foregoing homework, foregoing reasonable nutrition, and finding themselves in compromising circumstances".
"These are some of the issues from weak home life that we face as we consider this important piece of legislation. It is most important that as we talk about strengthening gender equality that our mothers should be supported by the fathers in the rearing of the children," the education minister said.
Thwaites said that while he was not casting blame, the Parliament had dragged its feet on his call for an amendment to the relevant legislation to make it mandatory for the names of fathers to be on their children's birth certificates.
"We can't tarry anymore on that. If the first human right is the right to life then the second must be to have an acknowledgement of the two biological parents who have brought us into this world," Thwaites said.
He stated that a feature of the policy which the legislation will bring into effect posits that principals of schools would now have authority to summon parents, where previous attempts at arranging meetings had failed, and the principal determined with due cause that the behaviour of the student and the student's well-being required this.
The Commission will advise the minister on policy matters relating to parenting and family matters in Jamaica, act as a co-ordinating agency to ensure the effective streamlining of all government activities relating to parenting and parenting support, among other things.
The Commission will also have the responsibility of overseeing the implementation and operation of the National Parenting Support Policy, among other things.
The policy defines effective parenting from a Jamaican perspective and sets out the Government's approach to supporting and strengthening positive parenting practices. The policy is expected to facilitate the development of an enabling environment in schools and communities in which to improve parenting practices.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, in her contribution to the debate yesterday, said that she was in full support of what she termed a "most important Bill". She said that the legislation was one more skewed towards the protection of children.
In emphasising the need for proper and positive parenting, she said that legislators were going to have to address the provision of a safe transportation system for children.
"I have already spoken to the Ministry of Transport and Works and the Ministry of Education about this. Too many of our children are being raped. I want to say to these worthless men, stop it. Do not get in the way of the children's future. Stop it. And when it is reported, they are to face the full brunt of the law," Simpson Miller said.
Debate on the Bill was suspended to allow for the contribution of Opposition spokesperson on education, Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert.