Helping students to focus on values, not violence


One of the first arrests in the St. James State of Emergency was a 15-year-old boy. He was arrested in connection with several murders and shootings.

Ten years ago, he would have been just five years old. Back then, his photo would not have been a mugshot, but perhaps a cherubic child in primary school uniform. Sadly, it is likely that his childhood was cut short long ago.

Violence against Jamaican children is at epidemic levels. Last year, 54 children were murdered. That’s one child murdered every week.

Violence against children is a national emergency

THIS is a state of emergency.

The scale of the problem has persuaded UNICEF Jamaica to focus our five-year country programme on violence against children. We are trying to help Jamaica strengthen its efforts to implement and support programmes aimed at preventing, reducing, mitigating and responding to violence.

The crisis of violence against children places many schools on the frontlines. Children cannot realistically be expected to learn effectively given the stresses under which many of them are placed. And violent discipline adds to that stress. It reinforces to a child that it’s the threat or use of violence, rather than dialogue, which solves problems.

Values/positive behaviour working in Jamaican schools

UNICEF has been supporting the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MOEYI) in piloting a values-based initiative that focuses more on modeling and rewarding positive behaviour, than on punitive measures. Many of the schools are seeing results: less fights and better grades.

In the experience of the Schoolwide Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support (SWPBIS) at Maxfield Park Primary, for example, children aim to be caught by their teachers doing something good.

Now that is child-friendly education! And maybe in 10 years, today’s five-year-olds can be caught, not by police, but by an education system that is producing children who stand out for their contribution both inside school and outside its gates.

UNICEF ready to support national rollout

We welcome the launch by the MOEYI of a new guidance and counseling policy, which aims to support students holistically, and is very much in keeping with our global focus of making schools more child-friendly.

UNICEF recognizes the hard work of the school teams and the efforts of the MOEYI in the implementation of SWPBIS. We stand ready to support its roll-out nationally.

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  1. This is a step in the right direction. Affirming positive behaviour is great reinforcement that uses an established learning theory. Keep up the great job!