Violence in schools not new but worsening

I was not privileged to attend a secondary school because in my youth in pre-Independence days these institutions were few and far between and those existing could only be attended by children of the middle class, such as senior government employees, large property owners, and others who could afford the fees and had the right colour.

These children were supposed to be well bread so they did not fight or show disrespect to teachers. Many of these schools were boarding institutions which were either run by trusts or the Church and were relatively small, so greater control could be maintained.

The rest of us went to the elementary schools and students had to be age seven to get in. Since the school year started in January then, many did not start until closer to age eight. On the day you turned 15 your school days were over, so out into the world you went.

There were fights, but the major weapon was the fist or a piece of broken slate. The girls often doused one another with ink, which was mixed for the dip pens used by the more senior students. Many of the boys took knives to school to peel fruits, cane, cut pieces of head sugar, or prune plants in the garden as us Manchesterians did, but seldom did they figure in fights.

In addition, teachers were mostly pre-trained but possessed a then vital piece of disciplinary equipment and valuable teaching aid called a cane or a nice piece of cured cowhide. These pieces of equipment caused potential fighters to behave, and the only thing parents would ask the teacher to do was to save the eyes. Fortunately, these toolsare outlawed today. Disrespect to any teacher was rare and not tolerated by the society or even other children. The prospect of being sent to "famitory school" was also not a pleasant idea as there was a certain amount of shame and embarrassment attached.

Towards the end of the 1950s thousands of Jamaicans boarded the banana boats to England, leaving many children with relatives, some of whom were no longer able to offer care to children at their age. At the same time, rural-to-Kingston migration increased and many children found themselves living in conditions with undesirable influences.

From the late 1960s onwards, there was a massive expansion of schools, both in size and number, and children could remain in school until they were older, which led to an increase in violence in schools. Additionally, there was the increasing violence in the society itself as migration continued to the USA and other social and political influences intervened, leaving children to continue under less-than-desirable care.

I recall that during the 1980s there was a problem with violence at the primary school which my children were attending. A Parent Teacher Association meeting was called and the principal informed the meeting that as soon as the parents migrate they promised the children that they would soon send for them, so immediately some started to misbehave since they mistakenly believed that when they get to New York they would not have to work as hard as they do in Jamaica and as a result those children become disruptive while waiting.

The primary elements of positive socialisation, such as the Church, family, and society, have become less influential than formerly because organisations, such as youth groups, including scouts, guides, cadets, etc, are not as strong as they used to be. Sadly, aspects of the media have not helped and unfortunately many churches tell you how to get to heaven but not how to live on Earth while waiting.

The glory of the gun, fast money, flashy brand name clothes are all part of the game. The graffiti on some walls in some communities depicting the favourite types of guns or the "baddest" gang tells vivid stories, not to mention the garbage some so-called sound system DJs spew out on to the society at all hours of the night.

I did not spend a very long time directly in the schoolroom, but it would be useful for teachers to spend some time being employed to a well-run private enterprise or in an overseas school to see what is expected of them. Many teachers ignore the fact that they play a major role in lowering violence in schools. When teachers are not prepared for class or absent without making proper arrangements for the conduct of their classes, chaos arises, often leading to violence.

The reintroduction of civics is welcome, but the curriculum must be upgraded and teachers need to be trained to teach this relatively new subject.

We have been talking about addressing early childhood education for ages. Meanwhile, the challenges being experienced at this level are a big reason children are not able to read by age 10. A child who cannot read by 10 years old will find it difficult to do so after. This can lead to frustration, often resulting in violence.

We have conducted studies and reports galore on education, but these reports are either in some archive in museums or long turned compost. Hope springs eternal, but let us hope the most recent one by Professor Orlando Patterson will see positive results. If positive action is not taken now, the problem will only get worse.


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