KINGSTON, Jamaica – Violence in Jamaican schools has long been a pertinent problem, but since the beginning of the year, the increase in the number of teacher-student conflicts in schools have gained regional attention.
In November, a two-minute video involving a teacher and a student went viral on social media, gaining the attention of the local ministry. In the video, Marsha Lee Crawford, a teacher at the Pembroke Hall High School in St. Andrew was captured hurling death threats at the student who seemingly tried to defend himself. “Mi will kill you in yah bwoy,” the teacher shouted, among the threats.
According to reports, the boy was reportedly being reprimanded for talking out of turn. Following the incident, the parents of the child transferred him to another institution.
The teacher’s rant was widely condemned by many. An investigation into the incident was conducted by the education ministry and on February 13, the disciplinary board ruled that the teacher would be allowed to keep her job, following an apology.
One week after the ruling, the same high school was back in the spotlight after another video, this time involving two students, went viral. In this video, two students were caught in a vicious brawl in a classroom. A teacher at the school was caught in the middle of the two students, trying to stop the fight. The teacher ended up fleeing the scene as the two students hurled chairs and desks around the room.
Following the first incident, many educators spoke publicly about the difficulties that local teachers face in trying to discipline violent, and oftentimes, criminal students. As seen in the second viral video, schools can often be an unsafe environment for other students and even teachers when crime and violence is perpetuated by students.
The head of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association Owen Speid, who has defended the teachers’ position, said that delinquent students should be “tried in the court of law” and in the end, be punished.
“I am saying it loud and clear that these children, who are operating in this way and believe they can just beat up the teachers and abuse the institution and everybody who comes there and put people’s lives at risk, endanger the other children, that they should be caned,” said Speid.
“These children nowadays will tell you that they will hurt a child and take some days. In other words, the punishment that they are given by way of suspension, that is not effective because some of them would maybe rather to stay home… What we need [is] to revert to the days when a student like this one should be caned, and I make no bones about that. I don’t care what the human rights people want to say.”
The age-old saying is true: “Children live what they learn”. Schools are a reflection of a county’s society and if children come from violent homes and communities where crime is the norm, it can be expected that they bring this learned behavior in schools.
In many incidents of teacher-student abuse, the parents are also usually involved, either condoning or causing the violent attacks. In another incident in February, a student at the Oracabessa High School allegedly attacked the dean of discipline at the school after the dean after he told him and several other students that they could not attend class unless they were properly groomed.
The student and his father had also turned up at the school a day earlier, making threats to the dean. Following the assault on February 19, the student returned to the school with an ice pick in his bag, and was arrested by police.
In a similar incident weeks before, a grade five teacher at a St. James primary school was attacked by an irate parent that took issue with a student’s work not being marked. Several other incidents involving teachers being attacked by parents have also been reported since the beginning of the year.
While much is being done to protect students in schools, there is less concern for teachers. Understandably so, children are the future of the nation; but at what point will the ministry work to also protect teachers and school staff?
The Minister of Education, Karl Samuda has announced plans to deploy safety and security support officers in schools, along with the introduction of metal detectors to make schools a safer environment. But more mental health and conflict resolution education need to be done through counsellors and deans of disciplines to lift the burden off teachers who now act as educators and police officers in Jamaica’s schools.