KINGSTON – Education Minister, Hon. Andrew Holness, has appealed for support from communities in which the Ministry is undertaking the development of several educational institutions.
The Minister’s appeal comes against the background of what he says are challenges the Ministry is encountering in several communities earmarked for the development of institutions under the Primary Education Support Programme (PESP).
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Red Hills Primary School, Red Hills, St. Andrew, on Tuesday (Mar. 29), Minister Holness informed that under the PESP, the Ministry borrowed some US$24 million to build 12 primary schools in two phases. He said US$10 million was earmarked to construct seven schools in the first phase, with an additional US$14 million being borrowed to build the remaining institutions, among them the Red Hills Primary School.
He, however, voiced concerns over challenges arising with communities rejecting schools being developed in their areas. This, he pointed out, has delayed the Ministry’s efforts to complete of the PESP’s second phase, describing this development as “disturbing”. He cited two communities in St. Catherine and Manchester, where he said the residents have rejected three proposed locations, in each case, for the construction of schools.
“We have had difficulties with getting approvals from the various local authorities, so, I’m in a dilemma. How do I build schools to serve the communities when the very communities for which the schools are being built, reject them. Communities are built, not just with homes and residences, but you must cater for the development for the children in that community, so you need a school.
“(If) you have to cater to the morale and spiritual development of the community, you need a church; (if) you have to cater to the health of the community, you need your hospital. For safety and security, you need your fire stations and your police stations, but communities have rejected schools,” he argued.
Mr. Holness noted that, to some extent, there was merit in some of the reasons proffered by community stakeholders for their position taken. These, he elaborated, include concerns that the presence of a school would “devalue” their property, as the children attending would behave in a manner likely to increase the “risk” associated, in terms of safety and security with the areas.
“But, we have to wonder what is it that comes first. Is it the better educated people, the persons who are properly trained, who will make the communities better; who will make the property values increase, who will make the community safe and secure. And if that is the way, then you have to build more schools,” he reasoned
Against this background, Mr. Holness made an impassioned appeal for the communities to support the Ministry’s undertaking. Pointing to the more than 10,000 students whom he said “are not in school”, the Minister attributed this to among things, the fact that “there are no schools for them…we don’t have enough spaces for them”, hence the need to build more schools.
“So, when we start to build schools, the last thing I would be expecting to hear is that ‘we don’t want the schools here’. If you are going to increase your property value, and if you are going to make your community safer,… you need a more educated population and you need education to be spread widely amongst your population. So I want to use this opportunity, in a community (Red Hills) that has embraced the school, in a community that has been waiting for a very long time for a school, to show the rest of Jamaica that you believe that this school is going to make your community a better place,” he stated.
Minister Holness said the Ministry’s thrust at enhancing the quality of education was not confined to erecting buildings, but instilling excellence, stressing that “everything that we do in our schools must be done excellently”.
“Therefore, all new schools that we build will be developed as centres of excellence, where we set very high standards. Standards, not just for teaching and learning, but standards in administration and operations, as well. The schools that we build will have, incorporated in their designs, proper mechanisms and structures to ensure that there is no safety and security issue. The teachers will be well prepared to make sure that their students understand how they should operate when they are in public spaces,” Minister Holness assured.
The Red Hills Primary School, which will replace the existing Red Hills All Age School, is being built at a cost of $256 million. The new institution, which will accommodate 630 students, will comprise 18 new classrooms, a library, wheelchair ramps, administrative block, performing arts and multi-purpose rooms, an upgraded playfield, and a multi-purpose hard court.
The project, slated to be executed within the next 12 months, will be undertaken by the firm, Alcar Construction Limited.
By DOUGLAS McINTOSH, JIS Reporter