Education System to Benefit from Centres of Excellence Project


Over the next five years, Jamaica’s education system should begin to see the benefits from a recently launched public/private sector partnership, known as ‘Centres of Excellence’.
“The education problems that the country faces, do not lie solely at the feet of the Ministry of Education. A collaborative approach can only redound to the benefit of the country,” Education Minister Andrew Holness says.
Lauding the latest initiative, the Minister emphasises that, “the solutions are in our society. The Ministry of Education must act as the facilitator.make ourselves available to the initiatives that are being championed elsewhere in the society.”
“If we take the collaborative approach, we stand to benefit from the synergy that can be had, by having all initiatives and all the resources in the society being co-ordinated with one direction, one purpose, to improve education,” Mr. Holness argues.
For many years, the Ministry of Education has grappled with problems of under performance in non-traditional high schools in rural Jamaica and reports abound, such as the annual Ralph Thompson Report on the education system.
The technical and financial resources needed to improve the performance of these Newly Upgraded High Schools in rural Jamaica will be supplied through the ‘Centres of Excellence’ project.
“I was inspired by the Ralph Thompson Report on underperformance of school students, but it took the collaboration with Dr. Peter Phillips, Opposition Spokesperson on National Security, who was far ahead in developing the initial document for the same kind of project, to come up with a workable framework to solve this problem. From that point on, only funding needed to be sourced,” Minister Holness recalls.
That was when two landmark institutions – Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) and Victoria Mutual Building Society (VMBS) – stepped in to help with providing the necessary resources.
The needs were great as outlined in another significant report. The Taskforce Report on Education Transformation highlighted the disparity in the performance of traditional and non-traditional high schools. The document revealed that in 2003, some 30 per cent of primary school leavers were illiterate; less than one-third of the children entering Grade 1 were ready for the primary level; and only about 20 per cent of secondary graduates had the pre-requisite qualification for meaningful employment or for entry to post secondary programmes.
Further, between 2001 and 2006, the performance in CXC General Proficiency Level Mathematics and English Language was not consistent, ranging from 20 per cent to 60 per cent.
The Ministry, therefore, needed support for the recommendations of the Education Report (2004), which called for an injection of technical and financial resources to improve student achievement, teacher quality and organisational effectiveness of Newly Upgraded High Schools in rural Jamaica.
Both JNBS and VMBS are mutual organizations, owned by the people that save and borrow from them. They are now among the largest, indigenously-owned financial institutions in Jamaica, and both were started for the purpose of trying to get Jamaicans into homes and improving their quality of life.
“We have worked together in many ways in the past. There was an active building societies association in which we combined to do training and lobbying for things of importance to our industry,” Oliver Clarke, Managing Director of The Gleaner Company and Chairman of JNBS notes of the relationship.
Through the ‘Centres of Excellence’ project, the Mutual Building Societies Foundation will give support valued at $100 million to 15 schools that will participate in the project over a period of five years.
“Two old, well established mutual building societies have found a way to improve their service to society, in a particularly important manner dedicated to improving mobility in our society,” Mr. Clarke says.
For his part, Chairman of VMBS, Roy Hutchinson welcomes the opportunity to join hands with JNBS in establishing the Foundation as they enter a new era of collaboration. “We believe that the time has come for both societies to demonstrate our binding commitment to national development and lead the way forward in the social rebuilding of our country,” he says.
Rather than talk about the problem, Mr. Hutchinson says: “We have come together to implement some solutions, to build Centres of Excellence,” noting that in every society, leaders of each generation have the opportunity to leave their footprints as guidelines for others to follow.
A joint venture of JNBS and VMBS, the Foundation, which was conceptualised in 2007, will implement social developmental projects, which serve as models for effective partnerships that lead to sustainable national development. The ‘Centres of Excellence’ project is the first to be financed by the Foundation and is geared towards enhancing the delivery of quality education in rural Jamaica.
Mr. Hutchinson points out that the ideas behind the project were totally consistent with the goals for education, as articulated in the Vision 2030 for Jamaica, which is being implemented by the Planning Institute of Jamaica.
The methodology to be employed involves collaboration with parents, teachers, administrators, community groups and local businesses as well as consultation with all local stakeholders, members of the Jamaican diaspora and alumni associations.
The project will employ the ‘Effective School Model’ approach and focuses on leadership and management, empowering teachers, student-centred learning, and developing a school climate that enriches learning.
Teachers will benefit by incorporating instructional technologies and student-centred learning approaches to create student-friendly environments. The benefits to students include improving their performance in four key subject areas – Mathematics, English Language, Information Technology and Science – as well as the development of student leadership through core-curricular activities and volunteerism.
Communities will also be empowered, by implementing capacity-building programmes, to position the community as a supporter, partner and beneficiary in the improvement of the education system.
Expressing confidence that the project will work, Mr. Holness says the Ministry will be targeting three schools each year for five years. “This is a significant intervention for a private initiative,” he says.
He adds that the fact that the persons who will be co-ordinating the project will reside at the Ministry, it would be possible to transplant to the wider system, the best practices which emanate from the project.
Among the criteria for participation, schools must be ‘non-traditional’ or Newly Upgraded High Schools located in rural areas and other towns; they must be under-performing; a development plan must be in place, or there is a willingness to develop a plan with the support of the partners; school administration must show the capacity for clear and effective leadership, and must have support from civic groups; the schools must have an existing or proposed method for open dialogue between the school administration and the surrounding community; and they must have, or be willing to develop a fair and systematic procurement policy for goods and services.
The project has been endorsed by the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools.
President, Nadine Malloy says she is heartened by the intention behind the project. Similar sentiments have been expressed by the Jamaica Teachers’ Association immediate past president, Hopeton Henry, who welcomes the collaborative arrangement that established the project.

JIS Social