HONOURABLE MAXINE HENRY WILSON, MINISTER OF EDUCATION AND YOUTH BACK TO SCHOOL BROADCAST 2007


On behalf of the officials and staff of the Ministry of Education and Youth and we would like to convey our sincerest sympathies to all those who suffered damage from the recent passage of Hurricane Dean.
Even as we thank God for sparing us from the worst ravages of the storm, we know that many of you, our fellow Jamaicans have had your lives disrupted and your property destroyed. The education system our schools and some of our stakeholders have sustained damage. Preliminary estimates from the Ministry’s regional and technical team indicate that some 350 schools have sustained damage from the passage of the hurricane. These estimates also indicate that approximately J$700 million will be required to effect repairs to these institutions. This figure may increase once all the estimates are in. The reports suggest that roofs of buildings accounted for most of the damage sustained.
Despite this however, we are determined to have a smooth start to our school year.
We know that as you listen to this broadcast tonight, every child, every parent, every teacher and every school principal is busy preparing for the new school year. I, therefore, welcome this opportunity to share with you what the Ministry of Education and Youth has done in preparation for the return of our students and teachers to the classroom after the long summer break. Over the past four (4) years, each year we have started the preparation for the new school year even earlier than the previous one. One of our emphases has been on the readiness of our school plants. This has been assisted by the on-going efforts at physical maintenance and refurbishing which is an integral part of the transformation of the entire education system.
We have developed an inventory of those institutions that need repairs and have initiated a programme for the construction of new schools and expansion of others. In some instances we have focused on provision of critical facilities such as sanitation blocks, canteens, reading rooms, staff facilities, etc. Some 3,000 classroom spaces are being added this summer alone is move towards the implementation of universal secondary education. To that end, we have allocated some J$1.5 billion to bring our schools to the required state of readiness and provide more spaces for the coming school year. Our objective is to reduce class size and phase out the shift system.
Eleven schools will be taken off the shift system in the upcoming school year. During the course of the year others will be added. Another important programme of the Ministry is the provision of classroom furniture both for students and teachers. This has been an on-going initiative. A total of 190,000 pieces of furniture being provided over the past two (2) years valued at $586 million. Many schools had their new furniture stored in preparation for the new school year.
With the passing of the hurricane, if there are schools with critical furniture shortage, I ask that they make immediate contact with their regional offices and attempt to settle the issue of availability.The shortage of furniture should not be an issue at the opening of this school year.
The government continues to provide textbooks at both the primary and secondary levels. Orders for textbooks were done on a very timely basis this year. Our status report indicates that some 700,000 integrated workbooks and textbooks valued at approximately $300M have been ordered for students in Grades 1 to 6 in all Primary, All Age and Junior High Schools. Students will have the use of the textbooks for two years.
I am pleased to report that the books are already in the island and will be distributed in good time. Just under 300,000 are already in storage and the remainder will be cleared from the wharves shortly. Distribution to schools has already begun in August and will be completed in September.
I wish to once again remind the nation that the Government has spent nearly one (1) billion dollars this year on the provision of textbooks for primary, secondary and technical high school students. At the primary level, textbooks are provided for all subjects.
The texts provided by the Ministry are those that are best aligned with the Revised Primary curriculum and will, therefore, best facilitate effective teaching and learning. It may be that for the GSAT students parents will be required to purchase workbooks.
Despite our best efforts, all of us, as parents, including you, principals and teachers have challenges in fully financing our children’s back to school costs. I, therefore, urge you: do not provide students with a hefty booklist requiring the purchase of texts many of which students do not use.
In this matter I appeal for good sense and moderation. In the case of secondary students, schools have a book-rental programme heavily subsidized by the Ministry of Education and Youth. Textbooks are provided for the six (6) core subjects.
These texts cover 28 subject areas, including the Sciences, Mathematics, Languages, Business Studies, Technical Studies, Information Technology, Agricultural Science and Drama.
High School students receive textbooks for core subjects free of charge. Parents, booklists will be provided. I know the anxiety and difficulties that accompany these demands. Innovative methods such as book fairs and book exchanges have now been introduced to reduce some of the costs associated with outfitting your children with back-to-school materials.
I only ask that we really make an effort to ensure that our children are adequately equipped to go back to school. Use the resources you may have to buy the books, the geometry sets, the calculators, etc., rather than the brand-name bags and shoes and the latest hairdos. It is the former (not the latter) that will be of lasting benefit to our children. We continue to provide support for the school-feeding programme.
Students who are on the PATH programme receive lunches free of charge. Schools have a mix of snacks from Nutrition Products Ltd. and hot meals. Both are subsidized by the government. Many schools have a breakfast programme. We know that, unfortunately, for many children the school lunch is their only meal for the day and we are committed to enhancing both the quantity and the quality of the meals provided. Our School Fee Assistance Programme is on-going. This year, the Ministry will be spending $1.7 billion for secondary students. Since the 2002-2003 academic year parents are required to pay only 50% of the Endorsed School Fee. I must point out that since the start of the cost-sharing programme; the Ministry has absorbed all increases in school fees while the amount paid by parents remains constant.
In real terms, it costs about $89,000 to educate each secondary student per year. Of this amount, the government pays about $85,000 while parents are asked to pay about $4,000. In addition to these costs, the Ministry pays full fees for some 40,000 children registered under the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH) and the more than 740 children who are wards of the State.
Children of teachers administrative and ancillary staff in public high schools pay a concessionary 25%, and the Ministry covers the remaining 75% of those fees. At this juncture, let me reiterate that the policy of this Government and the Ministry is that every child must have access to education, whether or not parents are able to pay school fees. We are very clear that no child must be barred from school because of inability to pay school fees.
Under no circumstances must any child be embarrassed because of non-payment of fees. We are promoting a new culture which seeks to build and uplift our children not destroy them. We have provided channels through which parents that have financial problems can the approach school to seek assistance. Those parents who are in need of assistance must contact the Principal or the Guidance Counsellor of that school. In addition, they may contact any of the six regional offices of the Ministry of Education.
Let me also remind you that no fees are charged at the primary level. It has come to my attention that some schools are charging exorbitant sums to hold spaces for children or charging schools fees.Where this continues to happen, we are prepared to take strong action. We are aware that the amount the government provides to schools does not represent the real cost of educating a child. Schools sometimes find it necessary to charge a minimal auxiliary fee. In this case, we encourage those parents who are able to afford it to give your support to the school in both cash and kind. This is important because it is your best interest to work with the schools as we seek to provide the best quality education for all our children. Let me now shift the conversation to one that seeks to move away from the notion that education can be provided free of cost. This as we have just outlined, is not feasible. This government continues to place a high premium on providing the best quality education for our all our child. We have been trailblazers in this area and will continue to promote innovative programmes and realistic policies as we move forward. We continue to face some challenges in absenteeism. All the research shows that there are three (3) main factors responsible for absenteeism. These are no money for lunch, no money for bus fares and a category known as “running errands”. There is a direct relationship between a student’s consistent attendance and good performance. Hence, during this year we intend to re-introduce compulsory education at the primary level. You will hear more about this at a later date.
In the area of governance, all our Boards and Principals are in place for the start of the school year. In the time leading up to the opening of schools, we remind all teachers to attend the developmental and professional development workshops being held. This is a requirement and not an option. All teachers must also use this time to be fully prepared for school such as having their lesson plans and other teaching and learning resources ready for all subject areas.
The Evaluation and Appraisal programme continues for all teachers. This is a requirement for the job and aims to improve the quality of the teaching and learning process not a mechanism for dismissal. It is important for all of us to set the tone for the new school year by being prepared.
The need for enhanced performance in the system must be the resolve of all stakeholders. We need to improve the findings of the Grade 1 Inventory to indicate better preparedness for learning by our children; literacy at Grades 3 and 4 must show a higher level of mastery. The national average for GSAT must improve with a narrowing of the performance gap between those at the top and those at the bottom of the performance ladder. Every student who takes the GSAT examination must be performing in literacy and numeracy at a minimum at the grade level. These are but some of the objectives of the transformation process and must be cascaded down throughout the system to represent the minimal targets of each school.
Only by planning, objective setting, provision of the requisite teaching support, teacher performance and an environment conducive to learning will we be able to meet these objectives.We have to work together to give meaning to our commitment that every child can learn and every child must….
That must be our motivation for the academic year 2007 / 2008.

JIS Social