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Minister of Education, Youth and Culture, Maxine Henry-Wilson has said that the government’s school building programme was being fast-tracked to satisfy the demand for some 235,000 school-places in the shortest possible time.She made the disclosure while addressing stakeholders and community leaders at a Social Development Commission (SDC) meeting at their local office in Morant Bay St. Thomas on recently.
Mrs. Henry Wilson said as part of that programme some 17 schools were built over a three-year period in the western end of the island to meet the growing demand for space in that region. This was brought on primarily because of the boom in the North Coast tourism belt, which spans Ocho Rios, St. Ann to Negril, Westmoreland.
Acknowledging that there was a space problem in the island’s education system Mrs. Henry-Wilson pointed out that government’s ability to respond effectively was restricted by available financing. The education sector received the largest allocation in the national budget with 95 per cent of that amount going toward salaries. While noting that proper compensation for teachers and administrative staff was important, the Minister noted that this left the sector with some $3 billion to carrying out its other functions.
“To construct a school costs about $200 million and an additional $150 million is then required to provide furnish and outfit that school,” she pointed out.
“Now were trying to fill that need elsewhere quickly by adding classrooms but it takes time to do the planning, to do the quantities and the contracts,” she said, adding, “and these stages have to be adhered to, to prevent against cries of corruption by the same people crying out for more classrooms to be built rapidly,” she added.
With the continued construction of Highway 2000 demand for school space has also risen in other areas. “We also had to fast rack the building of four sets of classrooms along the St. Catherine corridor because large bodies of persons are moving to Portmore and surrounding areas so we had to build to try and meet that need quickly,” Mrs. Henry Wilson added.
“We at the Ministry are aware of the shortages and this year we received $5 Billion from the National Housing Trust simply to meet those challenges. We have on the books strategic plans to alleviate those problems and we hope that before we get to the next school year to make a dent on that demand,” Minister Henry Wilson said.
She told the gathering that several schools in that end of the island are slated for construction including Lysons and Port Morant.
The Minister emphasized however that schools could not be built overnight or within a week and called on all involved to work together to ensure that all children, regardless of the circumstance, received a fair chance at the best education possible.