Unsafe spaces

OPPOSITION spokesperson for education and training Damion Crawford has knocked the Government for allowing schools to become what he calls unsafe spaces.

Crawford voiced this concern on Monday, during a People’s National Party (PNP) press briefing, which addressed violence in schools.

In attempting to drive his point home, he referenced research that claims 70 per cent of students do not feel safe in schools. Crawford also lamented that parental stress is high at this time because violence is rife among students.

“Students have highlighted that schools don’t have security guards, but watchmen, who are ill-equipped to ensure safety. Stress is high in parents. Nowadays, when a school calls a parent’s cellphone, the parent is afraid to answer that call because it might be a report of injury or death.

“We may have lower educational performance because students avoid school, having now not seeing it as a safe space. Their communities are not safe, their homes are not safe and the only refuge they had, which is the school, is currently also being perceived as unsafe for students,” said Crawford.

He declared that the frequent occurrence of violence in schools is of great concern to the Opposition, pointing to numerous videos which have surfaced on the Internet of students attacking each other, which has led to serious injury and even death.

Crawford further criticised the Government over its response to the crisis, calling it short-termed, ineffective and inefficient.

“We can use one simple example of the inefficiency of a proposal put forward by the Government. One proposal is that students be searched at the gate before entering school and the ministry has suggested that they would provide hand-held metal detectors. That being the case, simple mathematics says if you have 1,000 students in the school and you take an average of 30 seconds to do an executive search, you recognise that you would need 500 minutes or approximately eight hours for all students to be searched. That is the entire period that the school is supposed to last for,” Crawford said, pointing out that the PNP believes that such a proposal suggests that Government misunderstands the circumstances surrounding the upsurge in criminal activities and violence in schools, and added that “there is a lack of creativity and energy within the Ministry of Education”.

Moreover, Crawford highlighted numerous circumstances that he believes give rise to the wide range of problems impacting schools, and offered recommendations.

He cited that there is a lack of expectation and monitoring by parents, a prevalence of child abuse, neglect, harsh and inconsistent disciplining, low parental involvement and low emotional attachment. He said there is also parental substance abuse and criminal activity within families where the students are from and which they inevitably adopt.

“Majority of our children are also facing community risk factors which include the availability of weapons and the ease of access to alcohol and drugs, violence within their communities, large numbers of broken homes, in particular those represented by single parent families, a high level of transience, economic deprivation, high levels of family disruption and low levels of community participation. A final category of risk factors include school risk and these include early delinquent behaviour within these schools, academic failure, a lack of commitment to the school and gang involvement. We highlight these realities because it will help to put in context the recommendations we are making so as to reduce their propensity to violence.”

In the meantime, Crawford urged the Government to consider tying the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) to parents’ level of involvement and participation in Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) activities as well as their level of response when they are called in by schools.

“Continuation of PATH should therefore be on a term report basis, where schools indicate that parents have shown interest and come to school whenever they are requested,” he suggested.

Meanwhile, the shadow spokesperson on education recommended that schools be equipped with close-circuit television systems. He further suggested that Government embark on a school surveillance programme called School Eye, which would mimic the national security programme called Jamaica Eye, but with a focus on school.

“These can be deterrents to violent activity and also the increasing likelihood for punishment for violent activity. Employ a zero-tolerance approach to violence participation. Repercussions could include detention to a particular peace education or detention to participate in school chores, such as garbage and bathroom cleaning or other duties, and mandatory participation in uniformed core and suspension or disqualification from recreation are also to be considered.”

“We therefore put forward the recommendations for principals, board chair persons, PTAs and the government to consider for implementation of commissioned departments of socialisation in all public, primary and secondary schools. This new department will be headed by guidance counsellors and would be staffed by the guidance counsellors, deans of disciplines and form teachers. Formulating this department would immediately place roughly 40 adults under one umbrella to be trained, coordinated, organised and deployed for the purpose of interaction, monitoring, problem solving and consistent adult supervision inside and outside of classes,” Crawford said.

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