Ronald Thwaites | Back-to-school truths
I could have sworn the government trumpeted the abolition of auxillary fees in all schools in 2016. But now public servants have been given remission of something which does not exist as a feature of their equally trumpeted wage settlement. What a scam! The first back-to-school truth is that every parent of every child in every school has been issued an auxillary fee voucher. Call it by any other name if that helps you to continue fooling yourself. Even the temperamental Mr Warmington realises that members of parliament will have to help needy constituents pay that which was 'abolished'. The fundamental truth is that education, and especially quality education, is not free and of moral and economic necessity, requires a partnership between parents, the State and the community.
And please make sure that the equivalent sum to the fees remitted for the public servants are sent to their childrens' schools before September morning. None of this nonsense about having given every school enough to operate. Principals are not extortionists. The dollar grind hits their funds, too. Their responsibility is to be accountable for all the Government and parents contribute and to make sure, upon pain of losing their job, that no child is excluded from school because of poverty.
With respect to capital expenditure in education, it is commendable that the aspirant for political office in St Ann has tens of millions of dollars to invest in constituency schools. They need it. So do the schools in every other constituency - many much moreso. So honesty and equity require that commensurate allocations - not face-saving scraps - be available to those schools at the same time. In education, parson must not christen his pickney first.
What will be the substitute for the bag juice and bullas which are correctly to be replaced in the school-feeding programme? Why announce what you cannot implement?
Better to engage parents and canteen providers right now with available, economical, healthy alternatives to the plenty-sugar, fried-food staples.
Antidote to obesity
The real antidote to raging childhood obesity lies in the agro-economic venture proposed by Minister Hutchinson for the soon-to-be cane-redundant lands at Holland. With intentional investment, a year or two need not pass until there is enough local fruit concentrate, pre-cooked vegetables and peas and beans proteins to revolutionise childrens' dietary preferences, improve farmers' incomes and save foreign exchange. The plan gets even better when you add liquid eggs and a little animal protein.
Last week's feature on the successes of the Cedar Grove Academy point to another back- to-school truth. This is a new school which, like Mt St Joseph High in Mandeville, is closely Church-connected. Both are producing early and excellent outcomes, rivalling many traditional high schools. Both endeavours have a strong, explicit moral base, grounded in Christian values, dedicated leadership and effective parental linkages. They, and a few others, show the way to end the apartheid in education about which Dr Phillips sensitively deplores.
In a recent discussion, I think I secured Minister Reid's agreement to give schools the flexibility to deviate from the Grade-Seven syllabus whenever and for as long as necessary, to ensure remedial work in English and mathematics for all students with GSAT scores of less than 70 per cent. These deficiencies, which affect probably half of the students going to high school for the first time next week, should, of course, have been corrected at the primary level. That it is not done has to be the subject of another discourse. Right now, let us face the sad reality and use the available opportunity to correct it, rather than court inevitable failure later on.
The ministry should give a mandate to this effect. The nation should demand nothing less. Next week, let us look at the back-to-school truths regarding early education, the Primary Exit Profile and school funding.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.