I might have found a way to end violence in schools

Children often grow up believing they are supposed to get beaten and that bullying and other forms of violence are part of their education. But when you talk to a primary school child, who as a consequence of this violence, starts considering suicide, then you must know the situation nuh normal.

So, we need to break it down by having a real dialogue about violence in Jamaican schools where children are addressed as both victims and perpetrators. It is also important that they are at the centre of this discussion, because they are tired of just being heard, what they want is action.

While researching Jamaica’s contribution to UNICEF’s global Youth Manifesto to #ENDviolence in Schools, I spoke to students who have grown numb to what they are suffering; and this starts early.

Photograph of Charles Young, a Jamaican Youth Ambassador for the UN General Assembly, ran a Youth Talk at St. Richard’s Primary in Kingston to hear their solutions to #ENDviolence in schools.
UNICEF/JAM/Charles YoungCharles Young, a Jamaican Youth Ambassador for the UN General Assembly, ran a Youth Talk at St. Richard’s Primary in Kingston to hear their solutions to #ENDviolence in schools.

Learning from students about violence 

Society wonders why children embrace violence; or in fear of violence avoid the very places that they can better themselves – schools. We tend to forget how intelligent children can be; how sensitive they are not just emotionally, but in their awareness to what is happening around them and how any negative experiences become normal to them.

Time spent learning from students has pushed me into developing a new project called No Fear, Just Knowledge. The concept is to reduce violence by giving students better interpersonal skills through teaching them dispute resolution. There would also be sessions with teachers and parents.

Currently I am finalising an arrangement with a primary school in St Andrew to pilot the yet-to-be-finalised curriculum. The sessions are to happen without a teacher present, with the leader being a close-in-age role model rather than a more traditional authority figure. Of course the school needs to be reassured, so once the curriculum has been agreed, we will begin executing.

My project to end violence in schools

I think it is a good model, that from my experience can work, but I could be wrong. Though with proper measurement and evaluation, and vital student feedback to guide us, I cannot see how we will fail. By improving how teachers and students resolve interpersonal conflicts and by reducing the community involvement in school disputes, we can have a reliable system of reducing violence.

Resource-wise it will be OK operating at the bare minimum. All we need is the children. Added to that are offers of support from volunteers, and research support from University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona staff. The Ministry of Education has also expressed interest in seeing a proposal should the pilot be successful.

The goal is to expand the project to more schools and engage surrounding communities, once the project proves successful. This will require the support of other partners which I am hoping to secure with the empirical evidence that it works.

Results from the U-Report poll: Action against violence in schools
UNICEF/JAMResults from the U-Report poll: Action against violence in schools


Solutions for youth in need of youth input

Now you’ve reached the end of this post, please don’t discount me for my only 23 years of age. If anything, I was actually more insightful when I was younger and less experienced, and so more let’s get this done! 

Youth can inject energy into bureaucratic processes. After all, violence is going away, so decision-makers have nothing to lose. Yes, we might not always be practical, which can come with experience, but welcome new ideas and who knows, maybe a safer Jamaica can be ours together.

Fulfilling children’s rights is at the heart of what we do at UNICEF. This year, as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, we feature a special ‘30 under 30’ series, highlighting amazing Jamaican children and youth like Charles who are using their skills and talents to help protect and realise the rights of other young citizens. The focus of the series is on efforts to protect children from violence.

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