KINGSTON – Ruel Reid yesterday said the government is willing to help individuals involved in a life of crime to get an education if they put down their guns and become productive members of society.
Reid, the education minister, made the offer after engaging students at Excelsior Primary School in St Andrew during a tour of educational institutions in the Corporate Area to mark the start of the 2018/19 academic year.
“How do we get those persons at the margins to come into regular society? We want them to be educated and trained. I know the members of parliament have been encouraging many of these ‘shottas’ to put down the gun, to come back to school, and I am appealing to them this morning, anybody from any of these communities who is ready to go back to school, the government will make sure you have full scholarships to achieve your full potential because we must transform Jamaica from a culture of underdevelopment to one of productivity by the development of our human potential,” he said.
“I know a lot of them want higher levels of income, so we will train them, we’ll train and certify them for them to get jobs that can earn good money,” the minister stated.
He was speaking against the background of the murders of 11 children over the summer break, and the flare-up of violence in the lower Mountain View Avenue area over the past several days.
“I heard reports, based on my contacts, that students could potentially be impacted. It’s a recurring problem in Jamaica . . . part of my job is to ensure that our children have access to education to the highest level and we have to work now with our member of parliament, the ministry of national security, and the community to transition, to change the culture of violence,” he stated.
Senator Reid urged community-based organizations such as the church and Peace Management Initiative to reach out to people involved in crime and violence.
“I cannot understand why we would be killing our precious children,” he said. “I believe Jamaica is on the cusp of another economic revolution and those who have developed a whole industry of crime and violence, we are now saying to them that they can transition. I know it’s very difficult to move away, but I believe that there is opportunity.”
Meanwhile, director of Safety and Security in Schools Coleridge Minto told the Jamaica Observer that the investments made in making schools safer have been paying off. He said over the past three years violence in schools has been trending down, with fewer reports of critical incidents. In addition, principals have reported drastic reductions in weapons getting into the institutions.
“As part of the USAID funding, there is a monitoring and evaluation component – done independently of my work in the central ministry – and their evaluation also indicated that the reduction in violence is trending down,” he stated.
However, he stressed that of great concern is violence against children in the society.
“There have been a number of killings in recent weeks. We lost 11 children to murder – five in July, six in August. So, 11 children are not turning up this morning for school. Those are the kinds of issues that we continue to talk about and that is why the work that we do can’t be resident only in schools, we have to work a lot with our PTA, our parents, and our communities,” Minto said.
He said that under the USAID-funded Safe Schools Programme, metal detectors have been increased from 130 in 2017 to 500, and walk-through scanners from five in 2017, to 30 this year. “The allocation for 2017 was $200 million, this year it is $380 million, so we continue to increase both funding and our initiatives in terms of safety and security for schools to ensure that not just our children but also our teachers and all stakeholders within the schools are safe,” Minto stated.