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Minister of Education, Hon. Rev. Ronald Thwaites, has called on primary school principals to desist from administering tests to grade one students as a criterion for entering their institutions, and rejecting those who fail.

“We are receiving reports of many principals…giving tests to students, who apply to grade one and in some cases they are rejecting them even if they live in the proximity of that primary school. That is wrong. It must not happen,” he asserted.

The Minister was speaking at the official launch of the Educate Jamaica Programme on April 11 at the Jamaica College campus in St. Andrew.

Mr. Thwaites said that while he understands the motivation to get the best results, schools within a community should serve their constituents.

“The primary schools are to be the neighbourhood schools. It is not appropriate for children to be travelling from Spanish Town to Papine or similar distances because that school is considered better than the school in their community. It must be the ambition of the entire system to ensure that we have some modicum of quality and good purpose in each school,” he argued.

Minister Thwaites said a similar, more acute situation of extensive travelling exists at the secondary level, as parents clamour to get their children into the traditional schools, which are often some distance away.

He noted that the newer schools, very often, have teachers of the same qualification as the more sought after schools.

“Are we going to be prepared to allow our children to grow where they are planted, near where they are living, or are we going to continue this excessive expenditure of traipsing halfway around the country in order to find this or that name brand school?” he said

The Education Minister assured that, as part of petering out this type of imbalance in the system, Government is making a commitment this year to have more of an emphasis on vocational training.

He stressed that both academics and skills training are vital to rounded learning and better preparing students for the labour market.

“It’s not a question of either you’re academic or you’re technical. That kind of prejudice and bigotry must stop. You need both, but many students seek an opportunity in a school based on that bigotry, and because their schools do not have the appropriate equipment and skill,” he stated.

Minister Thwaites said the ideal that must be advanced, is for all high schools to have students and administrators, who can improve the competencies in the basic skills of literacy and numeracy, science and information technology, and social studies.

“But, it must also offer a range of practical skills, so that by 2016, no student leaves the high school system without having taken an exit examination and without one marketable skill,” he declared.

Educate Jamaica is a $43.9 million joint venture project involving the Ministry of Education, the Development Bank of Jamaica, secondary schools across Jamaica, private sector companies, and targeted funding agencies. It is being implemented by Strategic Alignment Limited (SAL).

The project seeks to address the challenge of inadequate education performance at the secondary level by applying the principles of governance, leadership, student-centred strategy, accountability and stakeholder involvement, as stated in the 2004 Task Force Report on Education Reform.

Educate Jamaica is now being piloted in six secondary schools with the greatest need for improvement, including one of the four schools identified by the National Education Inspectorate as in need of support.

The participating schools are: St. Andrew Technical High, Denham Town High, Charlemont High, Buff Bay High, Kemps Hill High, and Glengoffe High.

By Alphea Saunders, JIS Reporter