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Minister of Education, Youth and Culture, Maxine Henry-Wilson, has called for a new “consensus on education” in partnership with the Jamaican Diaspora which will assist the Jamaican government in its thrust to improve educational standards in the country while also structuring effective curricula that will prepare young Jamaicans for a dynamic global environment.
Minister Henry-Wilson was speaking at a community forum in Washington on Wednesday, June 22, which was hosted by the Embassy of Jamaica and attended by members of several Jamaican community organisations in the greater Washington area, as well as Jamaican teachers working in the District of Columbia school system.
In his remarks introducing the Minister, Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States, Professor Gordon Shirley, praised the Ministry of Education and its leadership for undertaking an extensive programme, which was designed to lift performance standards throughout the educational system, and particularly at the primary and secondary levels. He also congratulated Jamaicans in the Washington area, as well as the Northeast region of the United States, for their commitment to assisting educational initiatives in Jamaica and supporting the work of the Jamaica Diaspora Foundation’s Education Task Force.
The Task Force, which met last weekend at the Jamaican Embassy with Minister Henry-Wilson, is currently undertaking an expansive programme at the St. James High School in Montego Bay, which is aimed at improving academic standards through curriculum development, instituting remedial programmes and aiding the further professional development of staff at that institution.
Calling for a “collective vision for education” on the part of Jamaicans at home and abroad, Mrs. Henry-Wilson stressed that a strategic approach be adopted which would allow Jamaicans living overseas who have benefited from exposure and training in a developed world context, to give back to Jamaica. She mentioned that the initiative currently underway at St. James High School was indicative of the desire of Jamaicans in the Diaspora to make significant contributions to the educational and social welfare of the country’s youth.
The Minister also mentioned that the Jamaican community overseas had an important role to play in providing needed training and assisting the professional development of many working in the educational system. “In a range of different areas, in providing effective governance, in helping to improve the management of the education system and assisting in areas, such as stemming anti-social activity and supporting the local stakeholders, our Diaspora community has much to contribute,” she said.
Mrs. Henry-Wilson also told the audience that the Ministry was successfully forging a new paradigm in the delivery of educational services to the Jamaican population, which was based on a simple premise: “the recognition that students are at the centre of the system. This is our model of governance,” she noted, adding “our challenge is to remind ourselves that our planning cannot be in a vacuum, but must be responsive to the needs of those we serve in our educational system.”
Asserting that the improvement of educational standards were directly linked to progress in dealing with other concerns such as child abuse and school violence, Mrs. Henry-Wilson called for a holistic approach in managing the educational system, which takes these variables into account.
“Recognizing disabilities, understanding that children given a range of factors learn differently and process information differently, is essential to providing an environment that is indeed conducive to learning and produces results,” she said.
The Minister also acknowledged that increased efforts were underway to ensure that the health and nutritional needs of Jamaican students are adequately met, given the fact that proper nutrition and health care were prerequisites for an effective learning environment.
Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Sir George Alleyne, who also attended the forum, recognized Mrs. Henry-Wilson for her innovative approach to education and her hands-on management of the process. He said the Minister’s willingness to engage the system through direct contact with practitioners, at the individual institution level, was an indication of her commitment to understanding the problems confronting the educational system from a very personal and practical standpoint. Minister Henry-Wilson also met with officials at the Inter-American Development Bank as well as several educational interests both in New York and Washington.