The government will be increasing the early childhood education budget this year and providing more trained teachers, as it looks to improve outcomes at that level.
Education Minister, Rev. Hon. Ronald Thwaites, says less than four per cent of the education budget is spent on basic schools and "that cannot work."
"We have to increase that. We are putting in $1 billion more this year," he informed, while addressing opening of the new St. Margaret's Real Success Basic School located at Wildman Street, downtown Kingston on Sept. 20.
Rev. Thwaites informed that 200 trained teachers are being recruited to join the sector in October. He said less than 20 per cent of the nearly 3,000 basic schools in Jamaica have a trained teacher. "We have to change that. The best teachers must be teaching in the basic schools and that is what we are going to ensure," he said.
A further 200 special education teachers are to be brought into the primary schools and the early childhood institutions in November and December. "Plenty of our children come to school with some educational difficulty, and the ordinary trained teacher cannot handle that, and you need special teachers," the Minister argued.
St. Margaret's Real Success Basic School was built by Food for the Poor as part of its Jamaica 50 project, aimed at constructing or upgrading 50 basic schools island-wide.
The new structure, which replaced a building that has served the community for some 20 years, features two large classrooms, which can be subdivided into additional learning spaces, a sickbay, teachers' office, kitchen, and sanitation area.
The Minister said it is hoped that by December, the school would be renamed as an infant school so as to facilitate funding from the government. "This is so that you will be supported by Government and that your teachers will be upgraded. There will be food supplement and a little extra to help the children, as is our duty to do," Rev. Thwaites said.
In his remarks, Chairman for Food for the Poor, Andrew Mahfood, stated that there is no better way to celebrate the first 50 years of the country’s independence, than by creating a legacy of easier access to education.
He informed that the previous school building, which was dilapidated and leaked profusely, was demolished during the summer holidays "to make way for the new structure we have today, which is a much more comfortable learning environment for young children in this community."
"Our wish is that the 40 or so students attending this school will enjoy the best possible learning experience, and this will be the springboard for their future success," Mr. Mahfood stated.
Opposition Spokesperson on Education, Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, in her remarks, encouraged private Jamaicans to invest in the early childhood sector "as we seek to build a better and brighter Jamaica."
Principal of the school, Merna Jackson, expressed her appreciation to Food for the Poor and other sponsors.
"We are quite happy this morning to receive such a wonderful gift. Today, we feel as if Christmas came early. We feel blessed and privileged to have been the first of 50 schools to have been financed and built by Food for the Poor, assisted by the wider community," Mrs. Jackson said.
Within a week, Food for the Poor will open two more schools under the Jamaica 50 initiative. These are Long Hill Basic School in Whitehouse, Westmoreland, and Greenvale Basic School in Greenvale, Manchester.