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We are on the threshold of another school year. This is a challenging time for all; yet it is a time of promise and anticipation for students, teachers, parents and all other stakeholders.
We congratulate the students who have given of their best in this year’s GSAT, CAPE and CSEC exams. Many of you have produced excellent results. We wish you all the best as you continue another leg of your academic stretch.
We commend highly, the teachers and the parents for the strong support, guidance and leadership you provide daily for these students, without which many of them would not have succeeded.
There is a lot to learn and much to achieve before the next summer vacation, and I am sure students and teachers are eager to get started. All of us would love to see a smooth and seamless start.
The Ministry of Education and Youth has pulled out all stops to ensure that when you get started it will be in an environment conducive to effective teaching and learning.
School Culture and Spirit
During the past three weeks, I have been visiting schools across the country, assessing their readiness, identifying the gaps and making every effort to close those gaps. One thing, which stands out in those visits is the indomitable energy and spirit shown by the principals with whom I have spoken. They were positive about this school year and are determined to make things work even in the face of challenges. I thank you all for your cooperation.
Education Transformation
The academic year 2005/06 was the first full year for the implementation of several recommendations to effect a transformation of the education system. Our primary focus was on creating comfortable, high quality physical environments for both teachers and students.
We have made significant improvements in this area. The project, which is undertaken in two phases saw the completion of repairs to 300 schools in Phase One by the end of July 2006. This includes providing proper sanitation and canteen facilities. For Phase Two renovations and refurbishment have started in an additional 300 schools. This is ongoing.
In preparation for back to school, the regions and other stakeholders also submitted the names of 84 schools that are in urgent need of repairs and these were given immediate attention. In addition, we have disbursed $11 M to schools through the regional offices for minor repairs.
We have also expanded 12 schools and constructed two new schools for the start of the school year. A further four schools will be expanded during this school term and 12 schools will have new temporary classrooms. All of this will allow us to provide just under 4,500 school spaces. We will be providing another 2,500 spaces during this year through the expansion of nine schools; and for the coming year 2007/08, we will complete construction of eight new schools to provide another 8, 700 spaces.
We do not pretend that this will solve all our space challenges given our mandate to provide over 400,000 spaces by 2015. The challenge we faced in placing students from the Grade Six Achievement Test reminds us of this urgency, especially in the parishes of St Catherine and Clarendon.
However, we have dialogued with principals in those schools and worked out temporary solutions even while we attempt to construct additional classrooms as quickly as possible.
The measures that we have in place to ensure that adequate furniture for both staff and students is delivered to schools have worked quite satisfactorily.
While there are excellent schools across the island, we are still concerned about the un-evenness of the performance, especially at the primary level. The issue of literacy is still a significant challenge. The literacy strategy will be introduced this year. We have put in place national and regional coordinators and a cadre of literacy specialists. We have also engaged the Caribbean Centre of Excellence in Teacher Training (CETT) to assist in underperforming schools. Literacy coordinators will be trained and deployed in each school. We will be setting shorter-term targets at national, regional and school levels for improvements in literacy attainment.
This year, we will introduce a short-term intervention strategy for students who have not achieved the required attainment score in the Grade Nine Achievement Test (GNAT) and consequently did not earn automatic placement in the secondary school system. The Student Empowerment Programme will provide additional corrective instruction as well as enrichment activities to bring the students up to their functional level. They will then be re-integrated into the secondary school system.
As you may be aware, the Early Childhood Commission has measures in place to register all Early Childhood Institutions. This forms part of the attempt to bring those institutions up to satisfactory standards of operations and quality care delivery.
The pilot is now completed and full registration will begin soon. Because all the institutions are at varying levels, the target for completing this process is a moving one. In the interim, we have launched a public education programme to ensure that all institutions are sensitized to the standards for operation and management.
The National School-Feeding Programme has been extended to include basic schools. A successful pilot was conducted in 24 Early Childhood institutions in St. Mary. This will inform the development of a more comprehensive programme providing dietetic training, equipment and menus to ensure that children in Basic Schools (ages 3-6 years) are provided with at least one nutritious meal each day. Approximately J$190M has been earmarked to support the replication of this project in targeted areas.
In an attempt to provide the best teachers at the entry point of the sector, we continue to train early childhood practitioners at three levels: the NCTVET competency levels one and two and at the college level. This year, the system will benefit from more trained teachers.
Meanwhile, all efforts have been made to ensure that schools have their quota of textbooks. This year, we have spent just under $900M on primary and secondary schools textbooks. There was a delay by the printers, in the shipment of the primary textbooks. Consequently, we are one week behind schedule in their delivery to all schools.
These books are now on the wharf and will be cleared and delivered to the schools with minimum delay. We apologise for this, but hasten to add that this will not affect students’ learning as the primary schools would have had some texts, which were delivered late last year and placed in storage for this year. The secondary schools would have had books from the previous years. What we deliver now will merely be replenishing their stock. Once again we urge you the students in high schools to take care of these books. They are on loan to you and others will need to use them after you.
We recognize that it is critical for all schools to receive their grants and subventions for effective operations at the start of the school year. This year, the staff of the Ministry in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance and Planning worked tirelessly to ensure that all grants are disbursed on a timely basis. The subventions for traditional high and bursar paid schools have been disbursed into all school accounts. Cheques for special maintenance grants were distributed to the regions on Friday and should be at the schools by tomorrow.
Regular, janitorial, utilities and feeding grants have also been dispatched to all regions. We have allocated $1.2 Billion for the Secondary School Fee Assistance programme (Cost Sharing). Fifty percent of this has already been disbursed to schools. The remaining 50% will be provided before the end of the calendar year.
Human resources
This year, we have made extraordinary effort to ensure the appointment of nearly the full complement of principals. Schools have also been authorized to engage the required number of staff members consistent with their enrolment and the provisions for their establishment.
We believe that the quality of school leadership significantly impacts school performance. We have taken the initiative to train over 800 primary school administrators and have started the process of training secondary school principals in leadership and management.
Performance evaluation for Principals
As a companion to the Teacher Performance Evaluation programme introduced last year, we will be introducing a similar programme for principals. The Pilot for this programme will come on stream in January.
The result of these initiatives should be seen, both in the performance of students and teachers and in the schools as a whole.
Violence continues to plague many of our schools. Therefore, we have significantly strengthened and expanded the seven-pronged Safe Schools Programme to include more schools. The schools will continue to work at reducing violent incidents.
The new measures that we have put in place under this programme include 40 additional schools resource officers; the installation of panic buttons in 10 schools; the introduction of targeted searches for offensive weapons and the standardization of rules and consequences for breaches in all schools. We will also ensure that these rules are taught and upheld by parents and teachers.
The most recent initiative under the safe schools programme is the Safe Bus Rides. This is a campaign to ensure a safe commute for children to and from school. This is to be a collaborative exercise including the NGO “Mother in Crisis” that will conduct a Mother Patrol at Bus Stops and along specific bus routes. The police and the Transport Authority as well as the Kiwanis Foundation that has already launched its ‘Line Up Campaign’ will also support the activity. Schools are being asked to reinforce the message of Safety, Respect and Order, and to remind their students to line up to get on the buses.
I wish all students a safe, exciting and productive journey through this school year. Make the best of what the school offers; I encourage all parents to work with your child and give the support necessary for him/her to optimise the opportunities in school. The functioning of the recently launched National Parent Teachers’ Association will strengthen that invaluable parent/ school link.
I thank our principals and teachers who will continue to work hard to ensure high academic achievements and standards of discipline in schools.
The future of our education system is a future of powerful promise.
May God bless you all as we continue to work together in the interest of our nation’s children.