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Post-Gustav broadcast to the nation on damage to the Education Sector by Hon. Andrew Holness, Minister of Education

Release Date: 
Monday, September 1, 2008 - 12:45

Status update on Damage to the Sector

The 2008 School year should have started on September 1 however due to the passage of Tropical Storm Gustav we decided to facilitate the recovery process in the education sector; as a result we will officially begin the school year on September 3rd.

I must offer my deepest sympathy to those who have lost loved ones or those who suffered injury especially stakeholders in the sector who have been personally affected by the system.

The education sector, while not as extensively impacted as with previous weather systems, did sustain some infrastructural damage. Major damage to roofs and flooding were however centered in the parishes of St Thomas, Portland, St Mary and Rural St Andrew.

Some schools are inaccessible due to damage to the road network. This may affect the ability of some students to return to school. The process of assessment of damage continues and by the end of the week, we should have preliminary costs. The ministry has already put in place measures to ensure that affected schools can return to normality as quickly as possible.

Prior to the passage of Tropical Storm Gustav, 223 schools were targeted for repairs. Of this number 146 contracts were awarded with 136 completed and another 10 still in progress. Funds have also been sent to the six Regional Offices to be used by principals to do minor repairs. Additionally, the majority of the 503 schools that reported damage after Hurricane Dean have been repaired.

The weather system has also affected the delivery of furniture and equipment to some schools. The Ministry had however delivered furniture on a regular basis up to the end of July. In fact, for the month of July, a total of 1,340 desks, chairs and tables had been delivered to schools islandwide.

Auxiliary Fees

As we seek to return to normality we cannot ignore some very important issues, chief among them is the cost of education. As we seek to identify the best model for financing secondary education the government remains committed to ensuring that every child has access to quality education.

The policy of the government is that there should be no fee or charge that would act as a barrier for a child to access education. In keeping with this policy the government removed compulsory tuition fees to parents and absorbed the cost. The government recognizes however that the costs of running some schools exceed the subvention provided by the State. Over the years schools have found creative ways to raise the additional funds. While recognizing the efforts of school administrators to provide quality education, the Ministry must ensure that these costs do not become a barrier to entry or a means of discrimination for any student.

Education is a partnership involving the State, schools, parents, the private sector, the church and the wider community. Everyone must contribute to this partnership. The Government's role in the partnership is to provide and guarantee access to a core education service. Schools are encouraged to build on that core service and parents are encouraged to support and contribute to the schools' effort to provide quality service.

Lets us work together as a Nation to develop a culture where our schools are inclusive, and our parents see it as their solemn duty to participate and contribute to the school in the process of improving the quality of the core education service.

It should be noted that Government has actually increased its financial contribution to Secondary Schools. This increase ranges from 20 to 27 percent over the amount paid out in the last Academic Year.

The public should also note that all Secondary schools have already received 50 percent of the funding normally covered by tuition fees. The second payment of 25 percent will be made in November and the remainder will be disbursed in February 2009.

Text book policy

There may be delays in the delivery of text books to some schools due to the effects of the tropical storm.

On a yearly basis the Ministry provides text books for each child at the Primary Level and several books for rental or loan to students at the Secondary level.

It must be stressed that the text books provided under the loan scheme should not be tied to any auxiliary fees charged by schools.

Under the Primary Textbook Programme the MOE will be providing some 2.6 million books and 45,000 charts.

At the secondary level, the ministry provides more than 20 titles under the Textbook Loan Scheme. Total expenditure this year for textbooks was more than 1.2 billion dollars compared to just under one billion dollars spent last year.

Literacy and Numeracy

As our strategies to improve literacy continue to bear fruit, the Ministry of Education will, this year implement a policy of full literacy at the primary level. The government's policy is that every child leaving the primary system must be certified as literate. This means no child will be allowed to sit the Grade Six Achievement Test unless they have mastered the Grade 4 Literacy Test.

The Ministry will put in place support programmes and special interventions for those students who have not mastered the fundamentals of literacy. The effect of this new policy will be to focus the teaching resources on the attainment of full literacy by all our primary level students. Parents of primary school children at grade 4 and below should pay keen attention to the development of reading, writing, comprehension and numeracy skills in their children, these are the skills needed to master GSAT.

The Ministry of Education is committed to the goal that every educable Jamaican child must be literate on leaving Primary School.

Numeracy

Last year we introduced a strategy to tackle the poor performance in Mathematics and this school year we will begin full implementation. We have already administered the first sitting of the General Achievement in Numeracy Test for Grade 4 students. This is designed to assess their performance levels and guide the development of teaching strategies for Mathematics.

The test was administered in May 2008 to approximately 46,000 students. The results so far indicate that more than fifty percent of the Grade Four student population mastered Numeracy skills and concepts at the desired level.

Behavior and Safety & Security

The Ministry of Education is gravely concerned by the prevalence of violence, weapons, drugs, gang and anti-social behaviour in our schools.

This is a reflection of the problems in our society. However, schools cannot abdicate their responsibility as the training ground for good citizens for our society.

Schools are not open institutions where anti-social and criminal behaviour is accepted. I know the great frustration that many of our principals and teachers feel when they are confronted by the violent and delinquent behaviour of some of our students and the disruptive impact they have on our school environment.

The Ministry of Education has prepared guidelines and standards to assist Secondary Schools in developing effective control over the security, safety, and behaviour challenges they face.

We are taking a zero tolerance approach to the possession of weapons, drugs, and the existence of gangs in schools. Parents should take careful note that students found in possession of offensive weapons will be referred to the juvenile criminal justice system, regardless of their intent.

The school is not a place for weapons, drugs, or anti-social behaviour. The Ministry is pursuing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Police to have regular search of school premises and students where there is reasonable cause. I can only encourage parents to engage their children in meaningful discussion on these issues and take greater interest in their behaviour at school. We intend to have a peaceful school year.

Closing

As we anticipate improvements in our education system, let us not forget that Education is a partnership, and all partners must play their part. Our athletes have shown us that as a small nation we can achieve great things if we are committed to the cause. Let us commit ourselves to ensuring that all our children have access to a high quality education. On behalf of the Ministry of Education let me wish for you a very productive 2008/09 school year. Thank you.

 

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