‘Get the facts, we will do the analysis’

AMIDST public concern over violence in schools, episodes of which have filtered onto social media platforms, executive director of the Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA) Dr Deanna Ashley is pointing to the need for a proper assessment of the data to arrive at the right solutions.

“There is no concrete data, we have no facts, we have stories on social media, there is no concrete data that we have. We are purely reacting,” Dr Ashley told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday.

“The first thing you need is to be able to understand the pattern of violence in schools, get the proper data to be able to assess what the true patterns have been. When they get the facts we will do the analysis, look at the trends and understand the issues that have influenced those trends. That’s the most that I can say at this time,” Dr Ashley, a former public health specialist and head of hospital services in Jamaica.

She further pointed out that the advent, use and reach of social media is another aspect that needs to be scrutinised as “it does give the appearance that there is more violence”.

“There may be more, but we need the facts, we need the data, we really need to do the analysis. If I had the resources, I would go and try and look at some schools, but we don’t have the resources at this time. There are interventions that have good potential, but we need to understand where we are to tell us how best to go forward,” Dr Ashley stated.

The education ministry in 2017 said school violence was ‘trending down’.

Presently, violence/critical incidents that taken place within schools are dealt with pursuant to the policy guidelines as directed in the Critical Incident Management Policy of the education ministry.

It indicates that cases must be logged, and the critical incident report sent from the schools to the central ministry through the various regions. These reports are then dealt with by the safety and security unit in the ministry.

Further, matters that occur outside the schools are often reported directly to the police for their attention and later to the school for the appropriate actions. Incidents at the tertiary level are usually reported and support provided by the ministry.

The Observer, however, is awaiting the response of the ministry to questions posed regarding school-related incidents of violence in recent times.

In May this year director of the safety and security in schools unit Richard Troupe said vicious fights, a proliferation of weapons, and illicit activities amongst students have led to a decision to equip six schools across the island with closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance systems, for starters, with talks of linking them to the national camera surveillance programme, JamaicaEye.

He said the decision to put extra eyes on the grounds of Grange Hill High School in Westmoreland, Hopewell High School in Hanover, Oracabessa High School in St Mary, Papine High School in St Andrew, Denham Town High School in Kingston, and Eltham High School in St Catherine was informed by the education ministry’s ongoing audit of CCTV surveillance systems in schools as well as its critical incident investigations.

In addition, Troupe said “the vulnerability of the spaces because of where they are located and challenges in the physical environment, the set-up of the schools, and the many blind spots that exist and the need for consistent monitoring” were additional push factors.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the People’s National Party Youth Organisation (PNPYO), in noting concern about the recent instances of violence within schools and neighbouring communities, said “it is time for a revolutionary, collaborative and proactive approach to addressing this issue”.

According to the PNPYO, “if any real advancement is to be made in reducing violence in schools, the curriculum from early childhood to the secondary level must be designed for the holistic development of a student, who will possess a sense of pride in themselves and their country”.

“The best components of initiatives such as the Values and Attitudes Programme, National Safe School Policy, School Wide Positive Behaviour Intervention Support (SWPBIS), and the Peace and Love in Schools (PALS) programme, must all be revisited with immediate effect. The Government must ensure that these programmes are fit-for-purpose and that they address the new and emerging concerns among students and within schools. Additionally, dispute resolution should be fully incorporated into the school curriculum,” it said.

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