Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Prison" Schools

Given all the furor over Minister Thwaites's presentation in Parliament of the Ministry Paper “A preventative Initiative in Schools to Ameliorate Jamaica’s Crime Problem” January 20, 2014, I decided to read the source document. There is a one-line reference to a JCF study, which identifies certain schools as being the schools the individuals in the study attended. Based on this, the press chose the unfortunate headline “Prison Schools” and a statement of fact was interpreted as a cause and effect relationship, naturally upsetting teachers and students at the named schools.
The Ministry Paper also said 
 “Criminals are not born; they are formed – often by neglect or poor socialization. The major positive environments in the formative process are school, church and/or family.  Every child goes to school at some time. There is no other institution with such potential for positive socialization. As such, law-abiding habits ought to be expressly connected with the school experience.
And: “Studies show that many who end up committing serious crime were frequently absent from school; exhibited cognitive or social abnormalities; were not assessed or treated adequately; had little or no effective  family/ teacher support and dropped-out/ “graduated” with inadequate or no certification.”
Can we disagree with these statements?
In response, the Ministry of Education plans a special intervention in 56 seriously affected schools (it didn’t say whether any primary schools are included) to
1. Identify troubled, deviant and seriously disadvantaged students
2. Assess and address their situations
3. Prevent drop-outs

 The Ministry of Education gives the following projections:
 The MoE also proposes a system-wide intervention beginning in 2014. It will:
1. Administer a test to determine  the social and emotional state of at-risk students  - first in an early grade and later at an intermediate level, for example Grade 9, in selected schools
2. Complete development of Regional Referral Centres to treat with major dysfunctional tendencies
3. Offer teachers in primary schools training in counselling, parental engagement and primary therapies related to challenged children
4. Request a revision of the courses in Behaviour Management in all teacher training institutions to ensure that they cover the emerging behavioural challenges being displayed by students
5.  Appoint Social Workers in Education Regions who will network with relevant Ministries and Agencies
6. Provide instruction to Principals on how to identify and respond to disturbed students
7.  Implement a programme to detect and address disruptive conduct and drop-out risks in certain grades by September 2015
8. Expand opportunities for students to become involved in uniformed groups, sports and creative arts and thereby to engage and reform those with negative tendencies
9. Engage the Police and Military as part of a team to periodically attend the most vulnerable schools in a non-threatening way to befriend, promote order and reinforce positive constructive behaviour.
Given the potential of schools, I hope that intervention in the early grades of primary school, together with parental engagement, will be given top priority. Many of the at-risk students exhibit disruptive behavior disorders, for example ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) from grade 1 or earlier.  The incidence of this condition has been found to be 5% in developed countries. It is therefore likely that in every average-sized primary school class in Jamaica, there would be 1 or 2 children with this condition. These children are often shouted at, or sent out of the class, and sometimes beaten. They are certainly not given the kind of attention they need in order to learn. In her book “A Teacher’s Guide to Understandingthe Disruptive Behaviour Disorders”, Dr. Pearnel Bell recommends that these children should be diagnosed, after which parents, social workers and teachers should work together to help them reach their maximum potential, and give them a sense of usefulness and belonging. Too often, they label themselves as outcasts from an early age. Any desirable behavior they exhibit should be affirmed 100 times a day (about every 5 minutes)! See my posts of August and September 2013.
     In addition to children with ADHD, there are children with undiagnosed sight and hearing problems, malnourished children and children with learning disabilities, all of whom need special consideration in a class where they can get individual attention. Currently, in many schools, children across the whole ability spectrum are put together in one class, so as not to stigmatize the children, but I question the wisdom of this.  At the end of Grade 2, assessment of such a class showed that 5 boys and 3 girls were reading below grade 1 level; 3 boys and 2 girls were at grade 1 level; 3 boys and 6 girls were at grade 2 level; no boys and 10 girls were at grade 3 level; 3 boys and 7 girls were at grade 4 level and above. The more competent readers, being better able to follow instructions and work on their own, can follow the prescribed syllabus; but the priority  for non-readers and less competent readers should surely be to start where they are and work at their pace, with a strong emphasis on social skills, preferably with a specialist teacher.  In the same way as small potholes are less expensive to fill than big ones, early intervention is less costly than late intervention, and infinitely better for the children.
     My hope is that the Ministry of Education will follow through on the projections listed above; and that they will keep the public informed of the progress, making sure the progress is given the same prominence in the press as “Prison Schools”. It is also up to us to keep them on their toes.

No comments: