The Ministry of Education is currently holding discussions with at least two private institutions, in an effort to provide additional classroom places at the secondary level, within the town of Mandeville, in Manchester.
This is expected to go a far way in providing some of the approximately 6,000 new secondary school places which are needed for Mandeville and its environs.
Minister of Education, Rev. the Hon. Ronald Thwaites, gave details of the discussions, while addressing Northern Caribbean University’s (NCU) colloquium at its central campus in Mandeville, on August 20.
He disclosed that a private facility has volunteered to serve as a “grant-in-aid institution” in the effort, adding that “we are proceeding with this as quickly as possible."
Additionally, Rev. Thwaites said the Ministry has approached another privately owned institution, operating outside of Mandeville, requesting that consideration be given to establishing a campus in the Manchester capital.
Noting that Jamaica’s secondary education system needs between 80,000 and 90,000 new secondary places to replace the shift system currently being used in some high schools to accommodate their large student population, the Minister said that any contribution which private schools can make, would be deemed “vital and indispensable."
“The State cannot afford the money to build those spaces. But, we must end the shift system, because it is counter-productive (and) it is leaving our children vulnerable to all kinds of external (vagaries); and it is also compromising education. We are open to all kinds of initiatives in this regard,” he argued.
Lamenting that over 30 per cent of the nation’s secondary school students range between mild and serious in terms of “educational deficiency,” Rev. Thwaites said that “there is a special need for private schools that concentrate on special education."
"The State is simply unable to provide the required places and competencies to deal with this group of students. We will assist and partner in any way we can. But the field of special education is wide open, in the future, for private initiative and for private schools,” he said, while encouraging private sector interests to consider engaging the administration in public/private partnerships (PPP).
The Minister pointed out that both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have endorsed the concept of PPPs in the administration’s effort to provide additional secondary school classrooms.
He explained that under this arrangement, private sector stakeholders would be invited to build or expand institutions, and own and operate them for a period of time. The administration, through the Education Ministry, would offset recurrent expenditure, “and we (would) give them a fee for rental, a rate of return on their investment,” Rev. Thwaites said.
“I am pleased to tell you that this is proving very acceptable to the owners of private capital, and it is the way forward for the development of new schools,” the Minister pointed out.
The University’s colloquium, held under the theme: ‘The Relevance of Seventh-Day Adventist Higher Education in Today’s Global Environment’, was convened to unveil and discuss plans for the institution’s expansion and development. Over 100 delegates and guests attended the two-day seminar, which ended on August 21.