Broken families one of Jamaica’s greatest challenges, says Harrison

THE issue of violence in school continues to be an area of great concern for educators, who are at times physically affected by the scourge.

It is a blight on the education system that is not lost on the newly installed president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, La Sonja Harrison, who believes that the level of violence being experienced in schools is a result of dysfunctional homes.

“The school is a microcosm of the society, so it is a reflection of how far we have [been] denigrated as a society, how our moral compass has gone south and it is reflective of the greatest challenge I think we have in this nation — our home, family life — broken families, creating broken people,” Harrison argued at last Thursday’s Jamaica Observer Press Club.

Harrison said she is amazed that many children are having some experiences that she, as an adult, never had, noting that she has had to double as guidance counsellor for students at the schools she has taught.

“I wasn’t a guidance counsellor but the children confided in me and in just hearing some of their challenges, [I realised] life is hard [for them]. And so when they come to school, it’s an outlet for everything, so they just release frustration on each other, frustration on teacher and just frustration, and that starts from…unfortunately our younger children,” she said.

Harrison stressed that something has to be done as a nation “in terms of how we seek to reinforce the benefits of family life”.

She noted that even without a nuclear family where both mother and father are present, in times gone by “there was a greater level of support from the extended family and the village, the community [catered to] the children…Now it’s a me, myself and I kind of business.”

Harrison noted as well that another deep-rooted problem is that many children no longer go to Sunday School which served as a another support system that would pick up what the family didn’t do, and the school would reinforce.

“So we are losing that kind of setting and so what we are seeing in our schools and our teachers are being affected negatively,” she said.

Speaking on the issue at a back-to-school press conference on Thursday, Education Minister Fayval Williams highlighted the fights, stabbings and killings that took place when students returned to face-to-face classes in March after schools had resorted to online instruction due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

She assured that all the initiatives that were in place last year to enable safety and security in schools will continue.

“Six schools are getting closed circuit television at a total cost of about $15 million, [and] all of our high schools have metal detectors [that] will continue [to be] in place,” she said, adding that random searches for items that may cause harm will continue as well.

There are also 129 deans of discipline in schools and the number of guidance counsellors have increased by 98 to 1,016, she said.

“We continue to implore our principals, teachers and administrators to heighten their awareness and increase their vigilance. We will continue to have a team of psychologists and agencies that provide guidance for our students, those who may be coming back into the face-to-face environment and will need some increased socialisation, some increased behavioural management. We will continue to have the team of psychologists,” she said.

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