Vision on Mission programme consultant Gordon Husbands.

Negative labelling of students by some teachers and teachers’ expectations are among a cycle of risk factors in schools contributing to why some youths may fail, drop out, gravitate to gangs and end up in jail.

A call has also been made for the dangers of substance abuse to be put on the school curriculum.

Poor teacher engagement was among issues unanimously cited by officials of two groups which deal with former prisoners as well as Paul Richards, deputy chairman of the Joint Select Committee on National Security which interviewed the groups yesterday.

The JSC, headed by MP Fitzgerald Hinds, interviewed officials of the Vision on Mission and Eye on Dependency agencies on strategies to prevent organised crime, gangs and to identify vulnerable youths and intervene early.

JSC member Jayanti Lutchmedial asked about students—including those with disabilities—turning to substance abuse, crime and gangs. VOM’s CEO Giselle Chance said there were persons in the Youth Training Centre (YTC) with cognitive impairment, dyslexia and on the autism spectrum and often that exacerbates substance abuse. Others also have mental health issues which they self-soothe with substances.

VOM Programme Consultant Gordon Husbands said from his interaction with people released from prison, their early life as it related to schools was also a risk factor. This caused people to have low commitment to schooling and seek alternative directions including crime.

He said problems where schools were concerned lay in terms of some students’ low level of educational aspiration and negative labelling by teachers. He said the latter was “very, very important.”

Husbands said teacher expectations where students don’t get support in the education system could lower their propensity to learn. Students then gravitated to elements including peers, leading to drug use, delinquent activities and dropping out of school. He noted this cycle among people from YTC to the adult prison.

JSC deputy chairman Richards said poor teacher engagement is among issues why students don’t learn. He said it isn’t that nobody wants to learn, but sometimes the system fails the student.

EOD secretary Natasha Nunez added, “Yes teachers are part of the problem, also parents who are unprepared and underresourced to handle kids who are in the school system. Not just non-denominational schools, we’ve had calls from parents in the so-called prestige schools,”

Hinds asked who was to blame whether poor teacher engagement or whatever. He said the situation alluded to, exists in all schools, “One prime denominational school in the city has issues with drugs and all kinds of anti-social behaviour.”

Richards said the new paradigm was if the child fails, the system has failed—not the child.

EOD’s Garth St Clair said the COVID pandemic has also made slow learners have to be “front row” now with on-line learning but some aren’t logging in at school.

He said students at many schools sell drugs. St Clair warned against a brand of psychosis-inducing marijuana that causes mental illness and against the competition for “zesser pills”.

St Clair who called for the dangers of substance to be on the schools’ curriculum, proposed making Parent Teacher Associations mandatory. He recalled his parents bickering and self-esteem problems he once had “When I was in the military an older soldier who introduced crack cocaine to the military offered it to me to stay up to study.”