I recently returned from South Africa, where I represented Jamaican youth along with more than one million youth around the world who shared their voices. Our goal together? To create a Youth Manifesto to #ENDviolence in schools to be presented to education ministers from across the world in January and demand their action.
I helped shape the opening section which is on Diversity and Tolerance – in particular, I stressed that equality must be the foundation of promoting diversity and tolerance in schools. There is a need for real equality over mere tolerance. Other youths present in Johannesburg reported a range of reasons why their schools foster unequal learning environments, the most evident often being race and migrant status. However, in Jamaica; I would say that our main challenges are disability, sexual orientation and to a lesser degree, racism and colourism.
Before leaving for South Africa, I made sure to do my homework and consult with students. I led talks at Pembroke Hall High and St. Richard’s Primary schools and attended the national Youth Talk event held by UNICEF on World Children’s Day.
Speaking to youths reveals scale of the problem
What hit me hardest was the primary school student who told me about her suicidal feelings. When we hear experiences like this from even our littlest ones, then we must grasp the scale of the problem.
The picture that these and other Jamaican school students painted was concerning, including in response to two U-Report Jamaica polls. 74 per cent said they had worried about violence in and around their schools. Perhaps worse, 82 per cent said not enough is being done to make schools safer places to learn.
Youth voices need to be heard, which is why UNICEF also invited me to takeover their global Twitter account. Mainly what people wanted to hear from me as a youth coming from Jamaica was: is the violence in Jamaica as bad as we hear; how is it impacting the students; and what is being done?
Action needed to #ENDviolence in our schools
In terms of solutions, one real life example is the School Wide Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support (SWPBIS) framework, supported by UNICEF and being piloted in 56 Jamaican schools.
SWPBIS is a move away from a more punitive reaction to inappopriate behaviour towards modelling and incentivising positive behaviour. The results are a reduction in violent incidents and improvements in academic attainment. For instance at Maxfield Park Primary School, students want to be caught doing good: Gotcha!
However, such positive experiences need to be extended to all students in our education system, whereas currentlytoo many are excluded. I was fortunate to attend Campion High School where they made efforts to be more inclusive and prevent bullying.
Everyone must work together on solutions
As I think about how to address the challenges of violence in schools, I am trying to map out a concept called ‘No Fear, Just Knowledge’, which is about trying to get communities to protect their local schools.
It is imperative that all stakeholders, including youth, work together on solutions. All students need an equal opportunity to learn free from violence and free from discrimination!
— UNICEF (@UNICEF) November 30, 2018