Violence prevention ‘Toolbox for teachers’ to reduce aggression among children and violence against children in Jamaican preschools

A  suite of strategies for teachers, aimed at preventing the early development of antisocial behaviour and increasing young children’s social-emotional competence, is to be rolled out and further tested in a four-year study in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston.

The ‘Irie classroom Toolbox’ will be used with over 6,000 children aged 3 to 6 years at 76 preschools over the course of the study. The study, totalling £1,354,703 and funded by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the UK Department for International Development, will provide further evidence of the effectiveness of a preschool teacher-training intervention on child behaviour and mental health and on teachers’ use of effective child behaviour management strategies.

The research is led by Dr Helen Henningham at Bangor University (UK), with Susan Walker of the University of West Indies, Marcos Vera-Hernandez and Harold Alderman.

Through several years working with preschool teachers in Jamaica, Dr. Henningham, now at Bangor University’s School of Psychology, developed the teacher training intervention that involves equipping teachers with a “toolbox” of key behaviour management strategies that are relevant, easy to use, effective and flexible. The intervention is delivered through participatory and practical methods and has been specifically designed to be scalable, low cost and suitable for use in low resource settings.

Dr Henningham explains:

“Violence is a major public health problem worldwide. Preventative interventions in early childhood are important components in tackling the problem. Our early work has shown that shown that Jamaican pre-school teachers trained to use evidence-based child behaviour management strategies provide a more emotionally supportive classroom environment and use less corporal punishment. This translates to reductions in high-risk children’s conduct problems and increases in their social skills at school and at home. Large improvements were also obtained to class-wide child behaviour including fewer aggressive and disruptive behaviours and increased interest and enthusiasm in learning activities”

"I am delighted that we have the opportunity to scale up our intervention and prepare for national dissemination. This will help to ensure that young, Jamaican children are exposed to a safe, secure and nurturing early learning environment that is supportive of their mental, social and emotional development,” Dr Henningham added.

This four year study involves evaluating this intervention through a cluster randomised trial in 76 preschools in inner-city areas of Kingston, Jamaica to determine if benefits are obtained when the training is disseminated on a large scale. The preschools will be randomly assigned to a group in which all teachers receive the intervention in year 1 (38 preschools, 114 classrooms) and a second group that will receive the intervention two years later (38 preschools, 114 classrooms). An impact, process and economic evaluation of the intervention will be conducted.

The intervention is integrated into the existing educational system and involves training existing staff so it should be feasible and sustainable at scale. It therefore has the potential to make an enormous public health impact in Jamaica with benefits to reduced child aggression and improved child mental health at the population level. Furthermore, the intervention would be suitable for use at the preschool and early primary school level in other low and middle-income countries with potential to be an important component of global initiatives to prevent violence and promote child mental health.

Publication date: 13 October 2014