“Those who are way ahead are those who have proactive principals who themselves have some vision and are willing to explore and get out of the box,” said consultant Jean Machel Benn Dubois recently speaking on the UNICEF sponsored Child Friendly Initiative.
Under the programme, she works with teachers on implementing alternatives to corporal punishment in the school environment.
It’s an international programme introduced into the Caribbean via Barbados, initially, several years ago, and now being implemented in Antigua, Dominica, and St Lucia.
“Corporal punishment is culturally ingrained; however, let’s look at other (ways) and let that (corporal punishment) be the final resort,” Benn Dubois said, summing up what the programme is trying to accomplish and, simultaneously, the hurdle it has to clear.
The Child Friendly Initiative, she said, is child-centred, working towards making them leaders in the school environment. It works with teachers, equipping them with the necessary skills; and with the community, parents especially, via parenting workshops and more rounded parent-teacher associations.
She works directly with the teachers, and, on occasion in the classroom if she needs to demonstrate implementation of a particular method.
How have the teachers here responded? Well, there’s been some resistance, she admitted, but it’s been minimal. “The majority have embraced it because they see the logic behind it,” Benn Dubois said. “You have the minority, of course, who say, ‘it’s more work for me’. But if you cannot get a child to behave in the classroom, how will the child learn? And if (the child is) disrupting the classroom, how will the other children learn?”
Via this initiative, she indicated, “you can get to teach, you can get children who love coming to school.”
The emphasis to date has been on primary schools, 12 in particular — Greenbay, Villa, Mary E Piggott, T N Kirnon, Golden Grove, Bendals, Pares, Willikies, J T Ambrose, Holy Trinity School, Piggotts and Potters. Expansion to other schools and to secondary schools is possible. As for the existing schools, Benn Dubois was reluctant to state which ones were ahead of the pack, “they’re all at very different levels,” she said.
The approaches also vary. “You’re supposed to look at your school and see what do we want to do,” she said.
From edutainment centres to teaching through play to role play different approaches are being employed. She gave an example of one school where to highlight the students’ disruptiveness during assembly, teachers switched places with them, doing all the things they would normally do, while the students worked at getting them to do what they needed to do. Needless to say, it gave the students a taste of their own medicine and they seemed to get it. The teachers also took the time to demonstrate the appropriate behaviour. Of course, one isolated activity, even if it makes its point, isn’t likely to change behavior overnight. But, “teaching the expectation, then consistent practice of the expectation, doing it over and over again,” can; that’s what they’re banking on.
They begin with external rewards for the expected behaviour – lucky dips at some schools, earning points toward purchase of items from the school shop in others, and so on, in the hopes that in time they can phase out the external gratification, that there will be an internal driver.
The beauty of it is, Benn Dubois, who has her Masters in Clinical Psychology, suggested, “they’re competing against themselves” and, in the end, they will be the winners.