Education Minister, Rev. the Hon Ronald Thwaites, has announced that the Ministry is currently engaged in revising the national curriculum for primary and secondary schools.
The move is expected to be complemented by plans to gradually phase out the all- age and junior high categories from educational institutions which now have these sections, and retaining them as primary schools, with infant departments, to ensure that youngsters are facilitated with access to a full five years of secondary education.
(Related Story: Jamaica Marks World Day Against Child Labour)
In a message, read by Deputy Chief Education Officer in the Ministry, Sharon Neil, at a function hosted by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, at the Wyndham New Kingston Hotel, on June 12, to observe World Day Against Child Labour, Mr. Thwaites cited statistics which showed that while enrolment at the primary level currently stands at 85 per cent, the figure decreased to 77 per cent at the secondary level.
These statistics, he said, supported arguments that child labour “seems to be most prevalent between the ages of 14 and 17 years,” the age group mainly comprising the all-age and junior high cohorts, hence the Ministry’s decision to give consideration to phase out these categories.
Rev. Thwaites said access to education is only part of the solution, and contended that if children can be kept gainfully and joyfully engaged with a rich, varied and stimulating curriculum, suited for their individual learning styles and interests, “we are not only shielding and protecting them from the horrors of child labour, but we are preparing them to participate fully and gainfully in the labour market, when they become young adults."
The Minister advised that further details on this undertaking would be announced shortly.
Rev. Thwaites pointed out that a pivotal component of the curriculum revision would be ensuring that children have a clear understanding of what their rights are under legislation, such as the Child Care and Protection Act. Further, that they recognise when their rights are being infringed, and the persons and agencies which protect them under the Act.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Security advises that data from a national survey show that upwards of 16,000 persons, ages five to 17 years, are currently involved in some form of economic activity in Jamaica. The Ministry further points out that these activities mainly occur in the island’s three largest metropolitan centres – Kingston, Spanish Town and Montego Bay.
While citing the associate challenges which still obtain, Rev. Thwaites said “significant strides” have been made by the relevant private and public sector stakeholders, in recent years, to eliminate child labour, while adding that Jamaica leads the charge to this end, in the region.
The Minister noted that the Child Care and Protection Act has been one of the “most significant” legislative responses to the problem, and that it has been bolstered by the establishment of the Children’s Registry, which accounts for all reported cases of child labour.
Additionally, he said the establishment of a unit within the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, dedicated to dealing with the issue, “is also testament of the country’s commitment to the elimination of child labour."
“The enterprise of education, which I represent, by virtue of enabling access and attachment to an educational institution for every child in Jamaica, is a natural weapon in the fight against child labour,” Rev. Thwaites said.
This year’s World Day Against Child Labour was observed under the theme – ‘Human Rights and Social Justice: Let’s End Child Labour’. The activities also included a stakeholder workshop, where participants examined and discussed a draft of the proposed National Child Labour Policy.
By Douglas McIntosh, JIS Reporter