Ronnie wants British bucks - Education Minister targets grant funds to expand schools in St Catherine and Clarendon
Education minister Ronald Thwaites says he has made a request for a portion of the £$300 million promised by British Prime Minister David Cameron for infrastructural development in the Caribbean to increase the capacity of schools in Clarendon and sections of St Catherine.
Cameron has promised the money as part of efforts to build stronger ties with the region, but the British prime minister's offer was lost in a controversy over a proposed prison-transfer deal which would see his government helping to construct a prison locally where Jamaicans incarcerated in England could complete their sentences.
The proposal dominated the airwaves for days, with many Jamaicans calling for the money to be used to build schools and upgrade hospitals instead.
However, Thwaites hopes to capitalise on the generosity of the British prime minister and noted that discussions have already started with officials from the Caribbean Development Bank which has responsibility for allocating the funds.
"While others were quarrelling about the prison, I was making application for some of that money to build schools," Thwaites told The Sunday Gleaner.
"We are extremely short of high-school space in the whole area from Spanish Town going west to Clarendon Park. There has been a massive expansion of housing stock, and regretfully, all of those developments have been approved without the appropriate facilities, like a suite of schools, not just basic schools, but primary and high schools, and health centres and police stations as well.
"Therefore, it creates a huge overcrowding in places like Old Harbour High, Central High, and indeed all of the schools in that area," added Thwaites.
Several housing schemes have been started in Spanish Town and Clarendon over the last 10 years to meet the demand for housing solutions that are near to urban centres. Earlier this month, the National Housing Trust announced plans to create more than 9,000 housing solutions across the island over the next two years, with the majority of these housing schemes being planned for Clarendon and St Catherine.
"There ought to be full consideration of the educational needs of likely population increase, and it is not done systematically or it has not been done. I am insisting now that we should comply with that to make sure that we don't have any more crisis situation," said Thwaites.
He said the ministry has been actively searching for infrastructure to build new schools and space to expand existing schools in Clarendon and St Catherine, especially. There are currently 21 secondary schools and two technical schools in St Catherine, and 16 secondary schools and one technical school in Clarendon.
"We have expanded Central High, we have expanded Bridgeport, Vere Technical, and there are several others that have been expanded and will be expanded. Part of that is to remove the shift from these schools as well," said the education minister.