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Minister of Education, Youth and Culture, Maxine Henry Wilson, has stressed that if an enhanced education system is to be achieved, then innovative ways must be found to provide additional classroom spaces.
Mrs. Henry Wilson was responding to questions put forward by Opposition Spokesman on Education, Andrew Holness at Tuesday’s (Feb.7) sitting of the House of Representatives, about the feasibility of some of the recommendations of the Education Task Force. Of particular concern, Mr. Holness said, was the requirement for more than 400,000 school spaces, which he said, did not seem “realistic”.
“I don’t think we can say that this is what is realistic and therefore this is what we have to settle on.we have to find a way, if we are talking about an enhanced education system. Whereas we may not be able to meet the total goal, there are some floors below, which we cannot go if we are to compete with our neighbours in terms of adequate education for our children,” Mrs. Henry Wilson stated.
She explained that the rationalization process focused on an end to the shift system and to allow for nearly 100,000 spaces, “in order to keep our commitment to ensure that every child has up to a grade 11 education, we will need additional school spaces in most of our schools,” she said.
In addition, the new standards prescribed by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), require that each child have additional space.
“In other words, classes will have to be either larger or smaller to accommodate the new prescription from UNESCO as to what is considered a space for a child. That is important because we are doing multi-media teaching and also allowing children with different abilities to be in one class,” the Minister told the House.
The process, she outlined, also included the replacement of sub-standard facilities as well as addressing the issue of under-populated schools. “There are 38 schools, which have small numbers of children, but the problem is where they are located. The population has decreased and there isn’t likely to be a full cohort in the school,” she pointed out.
Responding to Mr. Holness’ comment, that the requirement of 25 to 81 new schools for Kingston and St. Andrew; 83 for St. Catherine, 50 for Clarendon, 35 for St. James, and 25 for St. Ann was “mind boggling”, the Education Minister noted that the space audit was preliminary and was used to indicate expenditure over the next five years.
“What has happened is that we have had significant population shifts. In Kingston, St. Andrew, Clarendon and on the north coast, we have populations moving from the centre down on those coasts and therefore there are a large number of persons, who have migrated into those areas. We have to be looking at facilities for them,” Mrs. Henry Wilson said.
For example, she pointed out, in the Discovery Bay and Ocho Rios areas, twice the number of institutions there may be needed, because there were schools in those areas with a population of up to 2,500.
“Even if you get rid of the shift system, you have to rationalize. We are saying no school should be larger than 1,000 children, that is really what is a manageable proportion for a school.even when you remove the shift system, there will be an excess population, then you have to look at giving them the required space in order to have the multiple learning that needs to take place,” the Minister further explained.
“We have to come up with innovative ways of creating the space,” she stressed, noting that the process was not short-term and could take up to 15 years.
According to Mrs. Henry Wilson, “whenever you have a recommendation, it then has to be modified to realistic projections. This is the preliminary work that has been done, but no matter how you spin it, we are going to need significantly more space if children are to learn in terms of their own ability and at their own pace.”
What this meant, she said, was that in almost every school, infrastructure would have to be put in for reading laboratories, proper libraries and science laboratories, among other things, as many schools did not have these modern facilities.