JTA feels ‘dissed’

La Sonja
Harrison is scolding the education ministry for excluding the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) from Wednesday’s round-table exchange on how best to deal with gangs in schools and said the snub is further evidence of what she considers a “lack of professional courtesy” shown to educators.

“I have not received any communication from the Ministry of Education; the secretary general for the association has not updated me concerning same, so to my knowledge we were not invited. You cannot be doing this, as it relates to education, and not have the practitioners,” Harrison, the JTA president, told the Jamaica Observer on Thursday.

The confab at Jamaica House in St Andrew was held by the ministry in partnership with the Planning Institute of Jamaica and the United Nations Regional Centre for Disarmament and Development in the Caribbean.

However, Harrison, who represents more than 20,000 educators across institutions of learning, said she was not made aware of the huddle, nor was an official invitation issued to the JTA which, she insisted, should be involved in those discussions.

“Any plans or policies that come out of said conversations you are going to be dependent on the educators on the ground to execute same. We continue to [highlight] the lack of professional courtesy extended to us as educators, which continues to be an area of concern,” said the JTA president who had expressed a similar concern to the Observer shortly after her election in June this year.

The president, who said any invitation would have been passed on to her, as she is the “speaking voice of the JTA”, charged, “There is scant regard for the educators on the ground. You all wouldn’t like to know”.

“They are talking about matters relating to education and you leave the teachers out of the conversation. What sense does that make? Only God knows. The students don’t operate on their own,” she said, describing the situation as, “very sad, extremely sad”.

Earlier this month the Observer reported that a simmering dispute involving upper school boys was about to explode at a Corporate Area co-educational high school.

A source with knowledge of the development had told the Observer that some boys in grades 10 and 11 “have formed gangs which are mainly linked to the neighbouring communities where they live, and they are coming to school armed with knives, ice picks, choppers, and — based on one report — guns”.

The newspaper was also told that in a recent incident two groups of boys faced off outside the school gate and one pulled a gun which he pointed at his rival, who fled while patrons at a nearby plaza looked on.

Violent confrontations between students have escalated since the resumption of face-to-face classes this year following two years of primarily online instruction due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In March, 16-year-old Khamal Hall was fatally stabbed by a fellow student of William Knibb High School in Trelawny, and late last month 16-year-old Michion Campbell was fatally stabbed at Kingston Technical High School in downtown Kingston, allegedly by a 17-year-old schoolmate who is now facing a murder charge.

In response to the problem, the education ministry recently launched an initiative aimed at ending violence in schools. Dubbed Just Medz It, the year-long campaign seeks to shift the culture of violent confrontations and responses among children and students and equip them instead with conflict-resolution strategies.

According to the education ministry, in 2019 alone, 560 people between the ages of 12 and 19 years were arrested for category one crimes. These included 85 for murder; 83 for shooting; 89 for rape; 43 for aggravated assault; 117 for robbery; 120 for break-ins and 23 for larceny.

The ministry has said it is aiming to reduce the incidence of violence in schools by 50 per cent by November 2023.

It has also indicated that an inter-ministerial 25 school strategy will be operationalised later this month. In this regard, it said a total of 16,000 students in 25 primary and high schools located in communities where zones of special operations are implemented will be targeted for behavioural interventions.

For Anti-Gang Week, which is slated for mid-November 2022, the ministry said it will be conducting activities to sensitise stakeholders on how to identify gangs in schools as a primary focus.

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