JAM | Sep 12, 2023

NPTAJ head against barring students from school over ‘dunce’ backpacks

Vanassa McKenzie

Vanassa McKenzie / Our Today

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Reports that students who sport Dunce-branded backpacks will be barred from attending classes, president of the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica (NPTAJ) Stewart Jacobs is urging school administrators to pursue alternative measures to discourage students from carrying the controversial bags to school.

“First of all there are multiple ways in dealing with most issues and this is no exception. One solution would be to confiscate the bag at the gate and give the child a substitute bag or a substitute folder to carry their books in. At the end of the day, you take the bag home or confiscate the bag until the end of the school year and the irresponsible parent who gave the child that bag must find an appropriate bag to send the child to school,” he told Our Today.

At least one school principal has warned that he will be barring from attending school any student who shows up with the Dunce-branded backpack, sparking concerns from advocacy groups and some parents.

Stewart Jacobs (Photo: Contributed).

“One other way of doing it is to allow the child to come into the school, confiscate the bag, and have the child go back to classes without the bag. Why you really don’t want to deny the child from the learning experience that is the main objective of going to school. The second thing, you want to teach the child a lesson because that is a part of the education system where you do something wrong then there is going to be a consequence. You do something good, there is a reward,” the NPTAJ president said.

Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams has since cautioned school administrators against barring students from entering schoolgrounds, or sending them home because they are deemed not to be in compliance with the dress code of institutions.

“We are again saying to our principals, you cannot, you should not, it is not a policy of the Government or of the Ministry of Education to lock out or send home kids who show up and they are not in compliance a hundred per cent,” Williams warned at a post-Cabinet press briefing on Wednesday, August 30.

Education Minister Fayval Williams addressing journalists at a post-Cabinet press briefing held at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) on Wednesday, July 5, 2023. (OUR TODAY photo)

The education minister said that there are different strategies that school administrators can employ to address students’ non-compliance with the grooming regulations of schools.

“We have to change behaviour, you have to ensure as school leaders your consultative in all that you do so you get the higher buying from parents who can monitor and ensure that their children show up. We have in-school activities that students can do, there may be detention or something like that but there are other ways other than the drastic lock-out of students from schools,” the minister said.

Breakdown in societal values

The local slang ‘dunce’ has been a controversial term in Jamaican society, but has been thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks by the song Dunce Cheque by Valiant. Several stakeholders have argued that the song has been negatively influencing the nation’s youths.

Further, the NPTAJ president argues that the term ‘dunce’ is contrary to the academic goals that students want to achieve.

“There needs to be a change in the mentality of some of our parents where what is good for the geese is not good for the gander. Saint Augustine, one of the great writers said that ‘right is right, even when no one is doing it, wrong is wrong even when everyone is doing it’, so not because everyone is doing it [wearing dunce bags] makes it right. Not because a person comes and did a what people call a chune [song] and people have nothing to do so they glorify it and it is a number one hit’ back a the class dunce-a number one hit for who? That has never been a number one for any well-thinking Jamaican-any decent law-abiding Jamaican. That song was never number one for us and should never be number one for a parent who has a child in school and who wishes the best for their child. That song should never be number one then to further it by putting a brand with that name on it and sending your child out with it is showing where there is a total breakdown in values, moral, ethics and principles and what is concerned as being the core of being good,”


While expressing objection to the Dunce bags being sported by students, Jacobs also urged for greater responsibility among parents.

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