More than money: Despite GSAT success of high-priced preps, educators claim cash not needed to do well
Jermaine Franci, Gleaner Writer
With superior facilities and greater resources at their disposal, it is no secret that private preparatory schools are far outperforming their public primary school counterparts.
However, the staggering gap between how much is being spent to educate a child in the public schools and private institutions continues to grow exponentially.
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites told The Gleaner that his ministry contributes approximately $100,000 per year towards the education of each child at the primary level. This amounts to roughly $33,000 per term for each student, and with most primary schools not collecting fees from parents, public institutions are generally forced to make do with the relatively small sum.
Coming out of Johnson Research Survey Ltd's look at the performance of schools in the 2014 Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), a review of the tuition fees charged by the top-25 schools, which are all private institutions, revealed that parents are required to fork out an average of $190,000 annually for school fees.
The survey was commissioned by The Gleaner.
With many preparatory schools listing other attendant costs for extracurricular activities, excursions, textbooks, extra lessons and other specialised classes, parents could end up spending at minimum $250,000 by the end of a school year on a single child.
CLOSE TO UNIVERSITY FEES
This is in line with the tuition fees that many Jamaican students at the undergraduate level are required to pay at the University of the West Indies, where, excluding the faculties of Law and Medical Sciences, tuition fees are approximately $260,000.
Recognising that there is indeed a big gap in the cost of private and public education in Jamaica, Thwaites said this should not be linked to the performance of students in the GSAT exams.
"Prep schools are really private businesses, some operating to make a profit. They have to make provisions for accessing their own buildings and dealing with certain overhead costs that public schools don't have to deal with," Thwaites explained, adding that the Ministry of Finance offsets some of the expenses primary schools have, whereas preparatory schools have to pay all their fees on their own.
He also noted that not all the monies collected at the prep schools are used towards delivery in the classroom and, as such, the same amount being spent on students in private schools could very well be the same being spent on students in some public classrooms.
The education minister emphasised that the focus should be on ensuring that the students are getting value for money by adequately managing resources and not "comparing apples to oranges".
Carlene McCalla Francis, principal at Kensington Primary in St Catherine - the top-performing primary school - agreed that students' performance in the high-school entrance exams relies on a lot more than money.
"It's hard work, long hours, and the dedication of the staff and parents why we are getting the results that we are now seeing," McCalla Francis said.
She said the greatest challenge is not so much the budget given to the primary schools each year, as they have devised strategies to help sustain themselves, but it is the student-teacher ratio that is their greatest obstacle.
"It is not fair to compare us to the prep schools, as, very often, they may have two teachers to a class of, say, 20 students. We here, at Kensington - and in many other primary schools - have one teacher to 40 - and sometimes more than 45 - students," she explained.
"Money should not be used to equate performance, because I believe whether or not we have money, if we have the drive, we can get results."
It is for this reason she said Kensington Primary has had to devise new strategies to boost performance, including starting classes from as early as 6:30 in the mornings, using more creative and technology-based teaching methods, and running marathon extra lessons that are now attracting students from prep schools.
"So, for us, it is not a money issue. It's about management. While money helps - and we need more of it - you don't have to have money to do well. We plan together and use our resources wisely and we work as a family," McCalla Francis explained.