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School CP - June 2001

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Jamaica Observer, Kingston, 3 June 2001

Beatings, violence contribute to aggression in kids - Study

Schoolgirl strapping punishment
Corporal punishment still widely used in Jamaican schools. (File Photo)

A local study released last week has linked corporal punishment and violence in the community as the two main factors contributing to a high level of aggression in Jamaican primary schoolchildren.

In one of two studies commissioned by the Planning Institute of Jamaica over two years ago and released on Thursday, Dr Julie Meeks-Gardener, lecturer in nutrition at the University of the West Indies, confirmed that beatings occurred regularly in most schools, despite being frowned on by the Ministry of Education.

She examined 29 schools, comparing facilities, resources and teacher characteristics to identify contributors to the levels of aggression among 1,416 children -- 49% of them boys and 50.1% girls -- between ages nine and 13 in 29 primary and all age schools in Kingston and St Andrew.

In two of the schools the principals said their teachers did not beat the children. But in the other schools, 87 per cent of the teachers and children said beatings occurred, largely as an act of punishment and in most cases, teachers used either a strap, belt or ruler. Other forms of punishment included being sent outside the classroom, being made to kneel or to stand in the sun or in uncomfortable positions.

In a separate study, Dr Meeks-Gardener pointed to an even more significant factor contributing to the high level of aggression, which is the frequent exposure to violence in both home and community. In this survey of 202 boys from 30 schools in Kingston and St Andrew, there was significantly more quarrelling, cursing and shouting among the family members of the aggressive group.

"Most of the (aggressive) children had seen murder victims and had personally known victims of shootings, stabbings and other violent crimes," she stated.

The increasing incidence of violence involving students inside and outside the nation's schools has put the issue squarely on the public agenda. In recent months, administrators in several secondary schools have called out for help to curb violent behaviour among their students.

Up until the study, there has been little information on the causes of aggression in Jamaican children. However research overseas has long indicated that aggressive behaviour usually originated in childhood, and it manifested in behaviour problems later in life.

Dr Meeks-Gardener said the results of both studies suggest that community violence and corporal punishment are related to increased aggression. These, she added, may therefore be important areas to target in future interventions designed to reduce aggressive behaviour in schoolchildren.

Both studies, published in the book entitled: A Case-Control Study of Family and School Determinants of Aggression in Jamaican Children, were released at the Hilton Hotel on Thursday. The book is the sixth working paper in a series published by the Policy Development Unit of the PIOJ and it sought to identify some of the factors in a child's home and school environment which led them to exhibit violent behaviour.

In both studies, two groups of children were identified and examined: those who were "pro-social" -- that is children who were gentler, altruistic and worked well with others -- and those who were aggressive.

In painting a profile of the boys in the aggressive group she said they tended to be slightly older, were significantly lower in social status, intelligence and achievement scores. The aggressive boys were exposed more frequently to violence. Nearly 30% of those interviewed knew someone who was killed. They were also exposed to violent practices, received less supervision compared to the pro-social group, and they were punished in more aggressive ways.

Their home lives painted a similar dismal picture. More aggressive boys were more likely to have a mother in a common-law union and less likely to have a mother who had ever been married.

"This concurs with findings from North America where parental separation has been found to be an important predictor of aggression," Meeks-Gardener told an audience of mainly educators and child welfare personnel and representatives of the PIOJ.

MEEKS-GARDENER...most aggressive children had personally known victims of violence

The response to violence by those in the aggressive group was worse than those in the pro-social group, she said. Significantly more aggressive boys got angry a lot, they would hit someone who hit them first. They often resorted to pushing, thumping, kicking or threatening or hurting other children. They had carried a knife or used a knife in fights, had been hurt or hurt someone else in fights in the month of the interview. Concerning their attitudes to violence, significantly more of the aggressive boys thought it appropriate to hit someone who called them a bad name, who lied about them or who called their mother a bad name.

"These boys also thought you should tear someone's uniform if they had torn yours and that not to fight might be to risk being called a coward."

Dr Meeks-Gardener's findings concur largely with research done in England and elsewhere which cite evidence that boys who were bad when young continued to be bad and some eventually led to criminal behaviour later in life. Some experts support the view that modifications of the school environment could reduce aggressive behaviour.

Her organisation is seeking additional funding to do a follow-up study, she said, to keep tabs on these students as they grow older.

"An anecdotal evidence is that a number of them who were in the aggressive group have already gone on to show signs of frank delinquency," she said, adding that a few have been involved in arson and some have been sent to approved schools.

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