The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has committed $380 million for the roll-out of the Expanded Pilot Rural Transportation Project for the 2018/19 academic year.
The Ministry committed $200 million for implementation of the first year of the programme in 2017.
Now in its second year, the programme is being implemented in the rural sections of 12 parishes, excluding Kingston and St. Andrew.
Speaking with JIS News during the first in a series of islandwide Parent Sensitisation Sessions organised by the Ministry, Coordinator at the Ministry of Education’s Safety and Security in Schools Unit with responsibility for the Project, Richard Troupe, said approximately 7,500 children on the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH) are to benefit from the programme.
“For this year, we will be impacting 260 schools across 12 parishes. In our first year, our effort was 92 schools. This year, we are also focusing, in a big way, on primary schools, especially in the parishes of St. Mary and St. Ann,” the Minister said.
These are students who have demonstrated strong interest in school and experienced difficulty getting to school due to high transportation costs.
The programme is also open to schools identifying children with special needs for consideration. These children do not have to be on PATH.
At the high school level, allocation for children is $300 per day, while primary school students are allocated $200 per day.
Mr. Troupe said participating primary and secondary schools are now in the process of selecting children for the programme.
“In some cases, it covers the full cost for the child’s transportation from home to school. In other cases, it provides a subsidy. At the high school level, it suggests that it is providing support of $57,000 for the year for the child, because it is for the entire school year (38 weeks) that we will provide this support,” he said.
Mr. Troupe said where the cost of transportation is greater than the commitment made by the Ministry, parents will be required to pay the balance of the cost.
Additionally, this year, the Ministry through select schools will be partnering with registered route taxis and bus operators to provide transport services for children living in these rural areas who experience difficulties accessing public transportation.
This strategy, he said, will introduce diverse and increased transportation options for students within the sector.
“One of the challenges we faced last year was the difficulty sometimes of finding a 15 or 13 (seat) bus to go into a remote district, so there were some children who would have been disadvantaged, because we could not find the capacity vehicle to go there. For the 2018/19 academic year, the Minister has agreed to have route taxis as part of the menu of service providers. So this year, we will have route taxis and bus operators that we have contracted,” he said.
Mr. Troupe explained that schools are tasked with identifying route operators within the locale of the school that are of good repute.
Service providers must meet several strict standards, including vehicles that are in good working order and are registered as public passenger vehicles.
“The fact that we have been able to include in the fleet of transportation options now, route taxis, will make it possible for deep rural schools to come fully on board, because they do not have to rely on the bigger vehicles to be part of this initiative,” Mr. Troupe said.
He said the Ministry maintains its partnership with the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) to deliver its school bus service to three major corridors in sections of Clarendon as well as with Montego Bay Metro Company Limited at the western end of the island.
“The Ministry’s role is to standardise the programme to ensure that, even though there might be unique peculiarities in some parishes caused by issues like terrain, we are not compromising the quality and standard of the programme. It is rooted in the Safety and Security Unit, because this particular programme, in addition to providing access for children on PATH to education, it is about ensuring access to education and reducing the vulnerability and risk to children as they travel to school and back,” he said.
The objectives of the programme include the provision of a safe mode of transportation, scheduled transportation for targeted schools, affordable transportation for students and improving the attendance of students in rural areas.