Budgetary constraints hamper rationalisation of infant departments
Data received from the Ministry of Education have revealed that between September 2012 and April 2015, 227 basic schools have been rationalised and 148 infant departments and nine infant schools established.
This means that the ministry is yet to rationalise more than 800 basic schools, which are to be merged with primary schools to create infant departments within these schools.
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites has sought to provide an explanation for the slow pace at which the rationalisation of infant departments is taking place.
"There are 2,600 infant schools in Jamaica. We estimate that more than 1,000 are strong stand-alone schools and don't require any assistance. We think that the others require at least an enquiry to see if they need some measure of assistance or if they could benefit from rationalisation, and wherever possible, amalgamation within the primary school where there is infrastructure, and many times, surplus teachers who can improve the quality of infant education," he told The Gleaner.
The rationalisation programme is expected to see the merging of 1,000 basic schools with primary schools.
"We have done about 300 so far in the last two and a half years. Is the pace satisfactory? I would like to see it faster, but many primary schools have to be retrofitted for the infant department. They will have a room, but that is not good enough. We want to make it really suitable, so the process is taking some time," he added.
According to Thwaites, the rationalisation is being affected by budgetary constraints and protracted negotiations with private operators of basic schools.
"Budgetary constraints have to do with it, but you have to also remember that many of these basic schools are a source of income for those who operate them, and we have to go through a process where we try and make sure that the interests of the founders are taken care of. So it is deliberate, but I believe it is worthwhile doing well. The other important element is that we have doubled the number of trained teachers in the infant department. Our plan is by year after next, we would have a trained teacher accessible to every early-childhood institution," he said.
Thwaites also provided The Gleaner with an update on the breakfast programme, which is to be rolled out in early-childhood institutions.
"What we promised and what is happening is a progressive development. Nutrition Products Holdings is now providing about 80-odd thousand solutions, and basic schools are doing a lot on their own with grants given to them. We don't expect the full rollout until about February of next year," he said.