Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Senator the Hon. Ruel Reid says his Ministry will be working with the police to re-introduce the truancy officer programme in schools.
This, he said, is to ensure that all children are accounted for at all times which will lessen the likelihood of them being recruited by gangs or become involved in criminal activities.
“No child should be left behind, because if we fail to do that, all we are doing is leaving them to be taken over by the gangsters,” he said.
The Minister was addressing the first in a series of anti-gang workshops at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston on May 18.
Mr. Reid said the programme “is something that we have to put back in place” to ensure that once students are at the age for school, they must be attending school regularly.
The Education Minister stressed that students found to be out of school must be able to account for why they are not attending school regularly.
In the meantime, Mr. Reid noted that the education system must be the avenue through which troubled youth can lead a more purposeful life and transition out of a life of crime.
“We are saying that those who themselves are involved in organized crime, there is now an opportunity for you to come out, be trained, be skilled, be empowered, put down the guns, put down the crime, and let Jamaica be a crime free country,” he stressed.
For his part, Acting Commander of the Counter Terrorism and Organized Crime Branch, Superintendent of Police Anthony McLaughlin, said the police is serious about dismantling gangs and welcomes working with the Education Ministry to achieve this feat.
He noted that the partnership with the Education Ministry is important, as the Ministry is seeking to go beyond what the police does in addressing the symptoms of criminal gang activities, to tackle the root causes.
“In dismantling the gangs, if we do not try to attack the root cause of the problem, then we will always be trying to dismantle gangs,” he said.
Noting that there are over 250 active gangs which account for between 60 to 70 per cent of homicides yearly, SSP McLaughlin said he was pleased that the workshop participants will be given the tools and knowledge to help steer students away from gangs and gang activities.
“We are not saying that gangs are in schools, but a large number of the students are impacted by gang activities and the gangs are out there recruiting these youngsters and we have to know what we are dealing with in terms of these children coming into school when we see the anti-social behaviours, we must know the signs we are to look for,” he said.
Research has shown that gangs recruit children as young as age eight.
The six anti-gang workshops scheduled, are being staged by the Safety and Security Unit of the Education Ministry. They are geared towards providing school personnel with the necessary skills to reduce the vulnerability of stakeholders to a range of potential threats.
One key issue the workshops will address is the formation of gangs and the effect on home, school, the community and by extension Jamaica.