JIS News

Education Minister, Andrew Holness, wasted no time in fulfilling his promise to abolish tuition fees for high school students, when he assumed office in September last year. Based on school reports, this measure has increased the level of attendance at schools.
Stressing that at no time should a child be turned away from school, because of an inability to pay school fees, Mr. Holness allocated some $900 million, to refund parents who had already paid tuition fees.
There was more support to come for parents, as he announced that a Parent Support Commission, would be established to liaise with institutions, that would provide information and support to parents whose children are victims of substance abuse.
Steps were taken to modernise the Ministry to make it more policy-focussed, by devolving many of its functions and responsibilities and giving autonomy to five Regional Authorities. In addition, three new education agencies are to be established, to effect overall transformation of the Ministry. The three agencies are: the National Inspectorate, which will address issues of improved accountability, monitoring and quality assurance; the Jamaica Teaching Council, which will deal with improved teaching and the teaching profession; and the National Assessment Agency, which seeks to improve curriculum and assessment.
One of the Minister’s thrusts, is to take the country out of the shift system, while meeting new demand for school spaces and to achieve the desired class sizes. In that regard, the Government announced a five-year development plan.
Since taking office, two new schools have been opened and new classroom blocks built under the Ministry’s Critically Needed Secondary School Spaces Programme. In addition, Cabinet has approved the award of seven contracts, valued at more than $700 million, to carry out upgrading and expansion works on seven schools across the island.
Attention has also been drawn to 500 schools that were damaged by Hurricane Dean last year. The Minister announced that the majority should be repaired by year end, at an estimated cost of $700 million. Most of them are in Region Six, which comprises St. Elizabeth, Manchester, Clarendon and St. Catherine.
With 5,000 school spaces already provided at a cost of approximately $300 million, the Minister disclosed that an additional 20,000 infant, primary and high school spaces are to be provided by 2009. This will involve the construction of 12 new schools, as the Ministry of Education continues to ease the shortage of spaces in schools.
Support to schools is a fundamental focal point of the Ministry, as it seeks to establish performance standards and targets, to include student performance, as well as the operation and maintenance of school facilities.
Training is to be provided in management practices for school Board members, Principals and Bursars, and thereafter, to hold them accountable for the performance of schools. Also, a system of zoning is to be established, to determine the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) placement of students from primary to secondary schools.
In addition, the Minister is seeking to establish standardised electronic accounting and reporting systems for all schools; institute a management information system to record, collate and analyse data on student performance; rank the performance of each student against class, regional and national averages and report annually to parents; and strengthen the schools’ support through the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) and other connected bodies.
The Minister is also moving to establish compulsory school attendance for all children between the ages of 3 and 18; institute a performance-based remuneration component for teachers, determined on the basis of improvement in student performance; establish a system of licensing and certification of teachers, to be renewed every 5 years; establish an accelerated programme of upgrading of teacher skills to Bachelor of Education level; and employ retired teachers of excellence on a contract basis.
A total of 413 primary schools island-wide are to benefit from the skills and expertise of 63 Mathematics specialists, who will be in schools by October this year. This move is part of plans to improve students’ performance in Mathematics. The specialists will operate on a school or cluster-based structure, to target the schools identified.
In support of students, the student assessment process is being strengthened and supported by remedial programmes, to ensure that students attain minimum proficiency standards, before advancing to higher grades. In addition, children with special needs are to be identified and supported with trained remediation specialists; and character education courses are to be introduced, to instil values and attitudes appropriate to national development.
The curriculum at all levels is to be reviewed and updated, and its impact on student performance constantly evaluated.
Internet access to primary and secondary schools is to be expanded as a critical learning tool for students, including its use to receive standardised distance lessons in critical subject areas, to support classroom lesson delivery.
Support for teachers has been one of the primary focal points for the Ministry. In that regard, the Ministry announced that 70 per cent or approximately 8,000 teachers, who will be administering the Literacy 1-2-3 programme in primary schools islandwide, were trained to deliver the programme.
Some schools in the Corporate Area reported positive gains in literacy from the introduction of Literacy specialists in their schools, as part of the Ministry of Education’s Literacy Programmes.
With heavy emphasis on early childhood education, the Minister, as a first step, introduced the compulsory registration of early childhood institutions, to regulate the sector and raise their standard, and began promoting primary school enrolment at age 5, instead of 6 years. The other measures include: increased availability of school places; provision of grants to private basic schools; enforcement of maximum class size of 20; extension of the school feeding programme to all basic schools, and the development of a standardised early childhood curriculum.
Also, the Minister is actively promoting the establishment of day-care centres, independently operated and at the workplace, to ensure proper care of children of working parents.
Anti-social behaviour in the society is a source of much stress for parents, so the Ministry has launched the Citizenship Education Programme, which seeks to address disciplinary problems and attendance in schools, and foster increased stakeholder participation in education.
To tackle head on, crime and violence in schools, Mr. Holness unveiled a number of strategies, aimed at addressing the growing problem. The new measures include a search programme, aided by metal detectors; the banning of cell phones in class, and setting a minimum standard for fencing, with a well secured access point for entry and exit.
There is also a move to create new opportunities for inner-city youth. The Ministry is developing an accelerated programme of training in marketable skills, through existing institutions, such as HEART Trust/NTA, in the areas of entrepreneurship, music and entertainment, events management, and hospitality.
In order to promote the visual and performing arts, and sports, a specialised HEART Academy is to be established, the Edna Manley College upgraded to university accreditation and the facilities at the G.C. Foster College improved. Also, every school is to be required to have at least one teacher with training in physical education, while coaches are to be provided in the major sports, to work at the parish level to identify and develop talent at the school and community levels.
The disabled are also to be empowered by the strengthening of existing programmes, such as vocational training and early stimulation, and by supporting the efforts of the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities and the Abilities Foundation.
With the new school term well on its way, the prospect for continued improvements in basic literacy in Jamaica looks quite good, the Ministry said this month.