Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Gov't to merge basic and infant schools

Published:Thursday | January 29, 2015 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell

The Ministry of Education says it will rationalise and merge 600 basic schools into 220 infant schools by the end of 2015.

In a statement to Parliament on Tuesday, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites said his ministry closed 11 primary schools last year, as the institutions had more teachers than students.

The minister argued that while there was a surplus of 2,600 teachers in the education system, beyond the ratios for primary and secondary schools, a deficit of trained teachers was impacting the early-childhood system.

"[I] wish we had the flexibility in the Education Regulations. I plead for your support and that of the teaching profession," Thwaites appealed to legislators while responding to concerns about various challenges facing the early-childhood sector.

"We don't want people to lose their jobs, neither for them to be employed at the public's expense when they are not really needed in the particular place where they have tenured."

LOW ENROLMENT

Providing further details about the problem, Thwaites said there were 220 primary schools with less than 100 students.

"We had to close 11 last year, because there were more teachers than students, and if they were doing well, it would be one thing, but unfortunately, the outcomes in those schools are even less impressive than in some of the other institutions."

The minister pointed out that under the present Education Regulations, no teacher can be transferred from an institution unless they agree to the redeployment.

"This is why legislative change in inevitable, and support of this Parliament, not through any 'badmindness', not to decrease any teacher's comfort level, but this is the simple problem," he said.

CHALLENGES

Thwaites spoke of a school in eastern Jamaica he visited, where the head of the mathematics department complained bitterly that he had 1,400 students with seven qualified math teachers. He said the teacher requested more math teachers.

A teacher of home economics at the institution, which was not named by Thwaites, also complained to the minister that she needed a qualified home economics teacher to assist at the school as another colleague had gone off on vacation.

"That institution has 17 surplus teachers beyond the establishment, and we are below the United Nations level of teacher-student ratio, but the problem is they are in the wrong places," he said, adding that the extra 17 teachers were not adept at math and home economics.

Thwaites told his parliamentary colleagues that of the 1,706 math teachers in high schools, 740 of them are qualified at the top of their scale in guidance counselling, religious knowledge, sports education, history and social studies, but not in mathematics. He said despite this, the ministry could not move any of these teachers but encouraged them at the public's expense to retrain.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com