BY CONRAD HAMILTON Sunday Observer senior reporter email@example.com
THE education ministry is taking another look at alternative methods of discipline that are being introduced in the country's schools to assist teachers with classroom management.
The move comes against the background of complaints from teachers and school principals who are struggling to address the wayward behaviour of some of their students.
Despite its being banned by law, some teachers have contended that corporal punishment is the most effective way to control some of the behavioural problems they face in the classroom.
Just over three years ago, the ministry, in partnership with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), launched an initiative that formed part of a broader programme to make the country's schools more child-friendly.
At that time, the ministry and other key education stakeholders, including the Jamaica Teachers' Association, reiterated their official objection to flogging in schools.
But the controversy over the issue has been reignited following last week's Sunday Observer exposure of activities at Kensington Primary School in Portmore, St Catherine.
In the article, one parent complained that children at the high-performance school were being beaten to get them to achieve academic excellence. The report quoted parents who withdrew their nine-year-old child from the school after refusing to consent to the child being flogged by teachers.
While insisting that students were not harmed, principal of Kensington Primary Carla McCalla-Francis admitted that 'slapping' the children was a feature of the school's disciplinary programme and contended that it was needed to rein in wayward students.
Her remark sparked much public outcry from persons opposed to corporal punishment and led to pronouncements by both Education Minister Reverend Ronald Thwaites and Children's Advocate Dianne Gordon-Harrison, who both promised to investigate what the OCA views as a violation of the Child Care and Protection Act.
However, other stakeholders in education challenged the stance being taken by the State entities and asserted that there was a place for corporal punishment in the country's schools.
Some of them, particularly principals and teachers, have argued that they have not been provided with effective alternatives to corporal punishment. They maintain that students have become more disruptive, are poorly socialised, and need flogging to keep them in check.
Speaking with the Sunday Observer last week, Thwaites declared that calls for alternatives to corporal punishment have not fallen on deaf ears at his ministry and announced that a special team has been established to review measures that have been touted as effective alternatives to corporal punishment.
The alternatives to corporal punishment have been formally introduced to some educators through workshops and brochures. However, the ministry wants all teachers to be familiar with these alternatives, which include the provision of counselling to students involved in fights and other misdemeanours; the withdrawal of privileges; time-outs and community service.
Thwaites added that the team will also meet with the leadership of the country's teacher-training colleges to ensure that the alternative approaches are shared with student teachers.
In addition, best practices in alternative methods of discipline will be provided to school teachers through the Jamaica Teaching Council.
For Thwaites, the introduction of alternative methods of discipline will have to be an ongoing exercise and will take into consideration the attitudes of parents and the poor socialisation of many children.
The education minister is also hoping that the introduction of the Early Childhood Commission's (ECC's) Parents Places will have a positive impact on parenting across the country and result in students being more disciplined.
The introduction of the Parents Places is in keeping with the provisions of the National Parenting Support Commission which seeks to provide avenues through which parents can access assistance to rear their children.
Already, the ECC has hit the ground running, with the establishment of Parent Places in Clarendon and St James.
Addressing a recent Observer Monday Exchange, chairman of the ECC Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan cited local research which confirmed that a significant number of parents have no information on proper child-rearing.