The Caribbean school system must place more focus on child and adolescent development, use more humility and engage in more in-depth collaboration with human development consultancies for the health and safety of our region’s youngsters. Peace structures can ensure, safety, wellness and sustainable development of our nations.
This is crucial, especially after Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have recently been exposed to a recording and videotaping of teachers’ violent utterances to primary and high school pupils; hence, the fear of violence seems to be everywhere in the lives of our nations’ vulnerable youth. Our policymakers in education and school staff could reflect on and work harder at building these four peace structures for our young people.
1. Meeting pupils’ growing needs
Regardless of the pupil’s economic status, family structure, race, religious background or academic prowess, adults need to exhibit appropriate practices to support the pupil’s development of a more healthy and peaceful lifestyle. There is a historic tendency to force pupils to fit into our school system, and this action can exacerbate stress for all concerned as too often, we are quick to speak about pupils’ lack of ability, lack of focus and confer laziness upon them.
Our schools lack sufficient information on childhood development, and they have missed the link between the use of developmentally appropriate practices to promote pupils’ joy and success at learning, and how these connect with improving pupils’ self and school esteem, critical thinking skills and positive behaviour.
Developmentally appropriate practices involve the school system’s appropriate interactions with pupils based on knowledge about how children grow and learn, the importance of the child’s school-entry age to match curricula expectations, and also what activities for children and teens are considered as acceptable, stimulating and safe.
2. Creating less stressful
and more caring school
environments for pupils
The current practice of many pupils with varying abilities and from various backgrounds needing to do copious hours of extra lessons after school should indicate that the national curriculum is not properly aligned to pupils’ general maturational concerns such as age, experience and attention span.
Experts in neuropsychology and child development, like J Court in “Immature Brain in Adolescence”, and Laura Berk in Infants, Children and Adolescents, explain that programmes for youth should be adjusted to fit their social, emotional and biological needs. New scientific findings on children’s growing brains will also assist adults in creating more child and teen-friendly environments.
In various Caribbean territories, parents, school staff, police officers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other caregivers say on the streets that we are alarmed at the number of teens who experience mental ill-health, have learning disabilities and who are engaged in self-elimination (suicide and suicide attempts), substance and alcohol abuse and other deviant behaviours.
How though have experts and others failed to connect the dots of the impact of inappropriate expectations of schools as a factor that negatively affects our Caribbean pupils’ behaviours, which in turn stresses our societies and heightens citizens’ risk for creating a persistent culture of violence?
Yes, unhealthy home environments can negatively affect children’s and teens’ development but so, too, poor practices from schools can also negatively affect individuals’ lifespan development and quality of their parenting.
3. Promoting pupils’ joy for learning and success
Poulou, in “Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties in Preschool”, Journal Of Child & Family Studies, notes that research shows that kindergarten children who are happy and exhibit positive behaviours at school tend to be involved in early childhood programmes that are more geared to offering children time to play, share and relate with peers, spend time in nature, and offer children choices on their activities.
In addition, these early childhood programmes promote teachers’ responsive care rather than punitive ways to manage children’s challenges, and the curriculum is less academically focused. Through the use of anonymous surveys done by pupils, I have held discussions with them to engage their critical-thinking skills about their experiences at home and at school. Many pupils have clearly said that their feelings are being disregarded and would appreciate increased patience and understanding about the copious amount of work they have to do and the stress they endure on a daily basis. Pupils also want to feel safe, cared for, and helped at home and at school.
4. Caring, peaceful school environments—good for pupils, school staff and society:
Marsh, Bush-Mecenas and Hough, in their article, “Learning from Early Adopters in the New Accountability Era: Insights from California’s CORE Waiver Districts”, say when California Core Schools in the US made use of their new educational policy, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which included non-academic measures to assess the emotional climate of school environments, they employed social emotional learning (SEL) for school staff and pupils, and more participation from outside consultancies.
Bullying and other deviant behaviours which also occurred in high-scoring schools, lessened among teenage pupils, and pupils’ academic grades heightened. School staff’s morale and happiness in the work environment also increased. Our Caribbean school system has a role to play in building peace structures for the benefit of pupils and the absence of violence.
—Camile Swapp has an MSc pschology, concentration child and adolescent development, and is a past director of youth affairs of Vision On Mission, T&T.