Don’t deny access to education as punishment, ministry warns

of Education and Youth Fayval Williams Monday cautioned school administrators and teachers against using denial of access to education as punishment.

In the wake of a report which cited a possible lockout by a school of students who sported a school bag branded ‘Dunce’, Minister Williams said “school administrators and teachers need to apply corrective actions consistently and prudently in accordance with our laws and established best practices in education. Numerous studies have shown that denying students access to education as a means of punishment worsens undesirable behaviours.”

The minister said the age-old practice of denying access to education as punishment is not only counterproductive, it is illegal. “Barring students from schools contravenes Article 28 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which Jamaica is a signatory, The Education Act, 1965 as well as the 2004 Child Care and Protection Act which is built on the ‘best interest’ principle and also states that school leaders and teachers are acting in loco parentis [in place of a parent].”

She stressed that administrators and teachers have a duty of care to the students. In addition, administrators and teachers are agents of the State, in that, they work on behalf of the State and every decision made is not personal, but rather a decision on behalf of the State. “Therefore, school administrators and teachers must make decisions that show that they are trained, cognisant and respectful of the laws of the land, the country’s international obligations, human rights, the rights of the child as well as the policies of the Ministry of Education and Youth. Our school leaders cannot do as the untrained persons. They are expected to demonstrate their training in developmental psychology, socialisation, behaviour change management, classroom management and positive discipline, all undergirded by the ‘best interest’ principle,” the minister added.

She said, too, that that children are minors and it is clear they are victims of the failures of agents of socialisation. “Our school administrators cannot fail them, too; they must demonstrate that they are mirroring the behaviour that they want the students to model, that is, compliance with laws and regulations.”

Minister Williams also reminded school leaders that parents/guardians must be engaged regarding matters pertinent to the interests and development of their child/children.

The minister listed a number of alternatives school administrators should consider instead of barring students from accessing their education. These are:

• Engage students in conversation about the appropriateness of their behaviours, choices and consequences.

• Hold motivational sessions with children using exemplary personalities.

• Convene empowerment session for parents with a focus on positive parenting.

• Put children on behaviour contracts using schedules of reinforcement.

• Refer students for internal or external counselling.

• Ask students to do research and launch positive behaviour campaigns.

• Make use of student leadership to champion change. These include peer counsellors, student councils, class prefects, leaders of clubs and societies and other such organisations.

• Acknowledge, incentivise and celebrate good student behaviour.

• Give reasonable time for corrective action or for the desirable behaviours to be demonstrated.

“At the start of the school year, we want to begin with encouragement of and blessings on our students,” Williams said.