• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Tuesday 08th July, 2008

Low tech IY wins in Jamaica

Dyed in the wool prevention scientists will tell you that for a program to be truly valuable it must have the potential to be effective anywhere and in any conditions – even in a country sometimes portrayed as being among the most dangerous in the world. The location here in question is Jamaica. In 2005 more than 1,600 people were murdered on the island and there is widespread concern about violence in schools. The program under scrutiny is the normally resource-intensive Incredible Years, successful in developed Western conditions and a key component of a recently-announced public health initiative in Ireland. The Jamaican experiment was led by Helen Baker-Henningham of the University of West Indies against the troubling background of a survey of more than 3,000 Jamaican adolescents conducted in 2000 by colleagues Kola Soyibo and Michael Lee.Nearly two thirds of the children surveyed (60.8%) had witnessed violence in their schools. Three quarters (78.5%) of them had also witnessed violence in their own communities and 44.7% in their own homes.In the light of such uncomfortable statistics the UN designated violence prevention in Jamaica a public health priority. UNICEF, in partnership with the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica and University West Indies, have since funded the Incredible Years trial as part of the search for prevention models that have the power to make a dent in the school violence figures.Would it work? certainly not without adaptation. Incredible Years relies on video, television and other materials. But Jamaican pre- and primary schools have neither resources nor finances to invest in them. Worse, Baker-Henningham found that schools were overcrowded, noisy and staffed by untrained teachers. Classrooms were separated by blackboards rather than walls and there were few opportunities for play.With advice from Incredible Years champion and UK trainer Judy Hutchings, the research team set about making changes.The lessons and role-play activities usually delivered in video format were replaced by puppets and acted out by trainers and teachers. More visual aids and materials were used to capture the children’s interest and to increase participation and understanding. All the activities were structured so that teachers could deliver them without additional assistance. Five pre-schools were randomly allocated either to an intervention group that received teacher and classroom training, or to a control group that merely received additional educational materials. Around sixty children in each group were tested on their pro-social skills, emotions, peer problems, hyperactivity and conduct problems, and their teachers were tested for positive and negative behaviors in the classroom and for teaching social and emotional competence.Children and teachers who received the program did significantly better on all counts than those who did not. They were given more incentives to behave well and work hard, they received more praise and were encouraged to improve their friendships skills and talk about their feelings. In addition, the children themselves demonstrated improved and significantly better pro-socials skills and behavior than children in the control group.If the success achieved by Barker-Henningham can be replicated on a larger scale in Jamaica, there is likely to be a strong case for implementing Incredible Years in all schools across the Island. • Helen Baker-Henningham, of the University of West Indies presented the results of the trial at a Dartington-i seminar in London last month. [For more in the Incredible Years in Ireland see Ireland goes boldly on to the mountain. For more on the effective translation into practice of proven program models see Lost in Translation and You’re going to be unfaithful, so why not make it part of the service?

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