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Education Minister, Rev. the Hon. Ronald Thwaites, says that the Alternative Secondary Transitional Education Programme (ASTEP) has not “done what it was supposed to do.”

Speaking on the Jamaica Information Service’s (JIS) Issues and Answers programme with Ian Boyne, the Education Minister said that several of the students in the programme have severe emotional and cognitive problems and their needs are not being catered to.

He said the Ministry is working to address the situation and come September 2013, every student in the teachers’ colleges will have to complete a module in special education.

“Also, the compulsory development programme for all serving teachers must include a course on special education that would be required for you to get licenced, because 30 per cent of our children fall somewhere on a spectrum of between mild and severe (in terms of learning deficiency). If the teachers can’t pick it up all you are doing is escalating a problem,” Rev. Thwaites said.

ASTEP is for students, who have not qualified to sit the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) for placement in secondary school. A two-year transitional programme, it offers a modified secondary education syllabus with a focus on literacy, so that they can make the transition to the full secondary programme.

Currently, there are 163 operational ASTEP centres across the island. Each centre has a trained specialist teacher and a maximum class size of 25 students to cater to the child’s individual needs.

Meanwhile, the Education Minister reiterated that the Ministry is working to have the alternative high school diploma in place next year.

The programme is for persons, who, for various reasons, were unable to complete secondary school, and so did not receive a certificate.

“This is for the girl, who dropped out of school and the fellow on the street corner. It doesn’t matter where you are,” the Education Minister said.

The Jamaica Library Service (JLS) and the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLLL) have been charged with coming together to offer the diploma.