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The Public Defender, Mrs. Arlene Harrison-Henry, addresses the weekly meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Downtown Kingston, held on May 4, 2015 at the Four Seasons Hotel in St. Andrew.
Education the Key to Our Children’s Future
Children Safety and Security – Our Priority – An Educational Perspective
This year’s Child’s Month comes against the background of twenty-six children having been murdered since the start of the year, sixteen boys and ten girls.
The Statistical Data for this year thus far and for the preceding years 2012, 2013 and 2014 show a steady upward increase in the number of children who have been murdered. This data tells a most troubling story.
Ending violence against children, building children safety and security had always been a national priority and responsibility for government but now it must be the priority for all caring Jamaicans.
The matter of children safety and security is a complex matter involving multi-disciplines covering a number of issues.
I have chosen to examine Child Month’s Theme ‘Children Safety and Security’ from the perspective of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the child with particular reference to educational opportunities available to our children.
The Office of the Public Defender’s perspective of safety and security goes beyond the physical safety and security of the child and extends into the status of the child in the community and as a safe member of the family.
We believe that providing reasonable education for all our children is one critical way that safety and security can be enhanced for our children.
The Constitution for the first time recognized the rights of the child when Parliament passed Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in April 2011.
Parliament recognized the rights of the child in entrenched provisions because as a society we value our children and want to ensure that they are afforded basic human needs.
It is mandated by our Constitution that every child has the right to such measures of protection as are required by virtue of the status of being a minor or as part of the family, society and the state.
This means that a child is protected from harm physical or mental, to be provided for in respect of his needs, for food, shelter, housing, medical care and other necessaries to secure the well-being of the child.
Secondly, the Charter guarantees every child who is a citizen of Jamaica:
- ‘To publicly fund tuition in a Public Educational Institution at the Pre-Primary and Primary Levels’.
The provision of free tuition in Publicly Funded Educational Institutions or free education as we often say is only one part of the fulfillment of that Constitutional Right the other part we submit is the provision of a reasonable standard of education to every child who attends pre-primary and primary in a Publicly Funded Educational Institution.
It was in 2014 that the Daily Gleaner commissioned study on GSAT performance of students in Preparatory, Private Schools and Primary Schools. The study revealed that students at Preparatory Schools and Private Schools outperformed their counterparts in Primary Schools. After analysing the GSAT results a ranking was done based on the performance of the schools only four primary schools were ranked in the top 100 performers with the highest ranked at forty-nine.
We examined the output of the Public Education System and Privately Funded Educational Institutions using the GSAT results for Preparatory and Primary Schools for the period of 2008 to 2014.
The results show that in the main subject of numeracy the students at the Preparatory Schools outperformed the students at the Primary Schools by more than 38% and as high as 45% in some years.
The disparity in the quality of education offered in the two (2) systems of education cannot be reasonably disputed.
The annual school census done by the Ministry of Education in 2014 reveals that the student teacher ratio for Preparatory Schools is an average of 10:1. The same census shows that ratio in Primary Schools to be 30:1 but the reality of some schools is a ratio of 50:1.
Students in Preparatory Schools therefore have the benefit of individual attention while the chance of a Primary School student being exposed to individual attention is drastically lessened. This certainly will impact the performance of the Primary School students when compared with those from Private Institutions.
It is therefore not surprising that the study commissioned by the Gleaner concluded that ‘preps are on top.’
The overall picture suggests that most of the nation’s children who attend Publicly Funded Educational Institutions in Primary Schools are under performing. Such a state can be attributable to several factors such as class sizes, student teacher ratio, resources, teacher training, parental involvement, leadership are but some of the main ones.
A child at the Pre-Primary or Primary level has no choice as to which school he attends. That choice is determined in the main by the means of his parents. It is no secret that the majority of our children attend primary schools.
The net result is that some children get a head start over other children.
All children we say are entitled under the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms to a reasonable standard of education otherwise we are failing under our Charter obligations and in that process limiting the potential of children throughout childhood and beyond.
To safeguard, protect and promote the welfare of our children by improving the quality of education in Pre-Primary, Primary Schools must be a number one priority to be achieved progressively. We should move expeditiously and effectively towards this goal within the available resources.
The Office of the Public Defender recommends:
- Expand the campaign Crayons Count, Maths Count to include Children Count.
- Introduce legislation that teachers are held accountable for their performance and that of their students.
In closing, let you and me start a campaign under the theme ‘Children Have Rights’.
Thanks for having invited me.
Arlene Harrison Henry