Juveniles learn to read in remand centre

Observer staff reporter

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

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HAVING one's freedom restricted is not ideal, but for two juveniles at the Metcalfe Street Secure Juvenile Remand Centre, it has been a blessing in disguise.

For the past seven months, the duo have called the remand centre home.

Prior to entering the institution, one of them could not read while the other was barely able to read. However, thanks to the centre's reading programme, both are now on a path to literacy.

“Before I came here I couldn't read, couldn't even pronounce A or B, or even spell my name,” a 16-year-old remandee told the Jamaica Observer yesterday, noting that he is making progress and is now able to read a little.

The teen, who hails from St Mary, said he has always struggled with reading as teachers had not taken the time to assist him.

“I was in a high school before I came here, but the teacher was so fast and she don't pay me any attention; but when I came here the teacher pay me attention and any word I don't know, she help me,” he said.

The other remandee, a 17-year-old high school dropout from Kingston, had a similar story.

“Mi did slow. Mi could read but me couldn't read good good, but the teacher teach me and help me make me reach higher 'cause when me did deh out a road mi neva did a go any school,” he said.

“Mi a learn more now at the moment and mi feel good, knowing that mi can read because if me can't read me lost,” the remandee said, noting that that is something he has now realised since his incarceration.

The 17-year-old boy, who is also doing a level-one course in barbering and aspires to become an entrepreneur, said he plans to enrol in a programme at HEART Trust/NTA to improve his barbering skills when he leaves the centre, while the 16-year-old said he plans to go back to school and improve his reading.

Both juveniles spoke to the Observer yesterday following the handing over of 300 crates of books to the Department of Correctional Services by LMH Publishing, Ian Randle Publishing and the Kiwanis Club of Meadowvale, at a ceremony at the remand centre at Metcalfe Street in downtown Kingston.

In the meantime, Doxeine Cormack, a teacher who has worked with the juveniles, including the 16-year-old who was not reading at the grade-one level when he entered the facility, said they have both shown a great deal of interest in reading and are motivated and will no doubt keep improving.

She said there are a lot of other boys at the centre like them, adding that the challenges are great because of their age, ego and pride.

“And most of them who are not readers are kind of fearful to come to us as teachers,” she said. “We have to do a lot of research and a lot of remedial preparation before helping them, and on a scale of one to 10, seven out of 10 boys are at a non-starter level.”

“You have boys who come here who are unable to spell their names or identify the basic letters of the alphabet, and they are coming from high schools. Some of them hide away from school, so that's the big problem; some will tell you 'Miss, a long time mi nuh go school', so learning for them is like you are orientating them back into a regular classroom setting, although this is not a regular school system,” Cormack explained.

According to her, the boys are being taught by teachers who are not trained in special education and although the teachers are managing, it would be good if the correctional services would get its teachers to undertake a course in special education to better address some of the problems with which they are faced.

Cormack, like the juveniles, were happy with the donation and called for more companies to get on board and donate books so that the juveniles can be more exposed to the wealth of knowledge that the books provide.

Meanwhile, state minister in the Ministry of National Security Rudyard Spencer, who was present at the handing-over ceremony, said it was important for corporate Jamaica to partner with the department to make a meaningful impact and thereby advance the department's efforts to reduce re-offending.

“Books are a passport to all kinds of knowledge, intelligence and wisdom. They represent windows to the world, both past and present. You can access the greatest minds through books. That is why, on this day, as we celebrate World Book Day, I am pleased that our youth will be given an opportunity to expand their minds,” he said.

“I encourage everyone to play their part — private sector, public sector, churches, non-government organisations — everyone must take an active interest and participatory role in the development of our youth, especially those who are considered at-risk,” he said.




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