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Ruel Reid’ 'anchor leg' worth exploring

Published:Thursday | April 21, 2016 | 12:00 AM


An article in The Sunday Gleaner, April 17, 'A ticking time bomb' by Arnold Bertram, has prompted me to publicly endorse the Education Minister Ruel Reid's plan to increase the school-leaving age. Bertram noted that in Jamaica's population of 2,800,000, there are 543,000 youths, aged 14 to 24, who are not employed, not seeking employment nor attached to

any training institution. This

is frightening and warrants immediate attention.

Reid's plan may be viewed as the anchor leg in a quartet

of significant initiatives by successive Jamaican Government to achieve universal access to secondary education. The first leg was the introduction of Common Entrance by Norman Manley. For the first time, more than 2,000 Jamaican students had access to secondary education funded by the Government. This laid the foundation for what exist today.

Edwin Allen, who established junior secondary schools throughout Jamaica, picked up the baton. Massive construction of schools was his target and he delivered. This represents a good reminder of how Jamaican governments have spent much of the borrowed money over the years.


Arguably, the most impressive leg was by Michael Manley. I recall him making the case for an egalitarian society and postulating that access to education was fundamental.

In 1974, he introduced free education and significantly increased access. Junior secondary schools were upgraded by adding two years to the programme, and intake at traditional high schools quadrupled.

The shift system was introduced to address the need for additional space. Despite its limitations, it created thousands of opportunities. Minister Reid is on the anchor leg and, like Manley, his biggest challenge is finding space. His target is to give students the option to remain in high school for an additional two years.

A significant number of students, particularly boys, are late developers who will benefit from this initiative. It could go a far way in addressing many social problems - many of the social problems associated with what Bertram envisions is a ticking time bomb. Over 22 years at Penwood High School makes my opinion worthy of consideration.


In my view, the timetable to eliminate the shift system should be revisited. Grades seven to 11 students could attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and those in 12 and 13 from 2 to 6 p.m. Traditional sixth forms should remain on track for students preparing for universities and colleges. Those who secure employment and enrolment in tertiary institutions should not be deterred.

New sixth-form students should be on the afternoon shift. In the morning, they could be engaged in work-related programmes aimed at enhancing their preparation for adulthood. The existing work experience programme could be altered to make it applicable to these students. Institutions such as schools, sports and youth clubs, citizens' associations and other community-based organisations could benefit from their input.

The primary objective of this initiative should be to develop students' sense of responsibility for the development of self, community and country. Youth with a sense of responsibility are more apt to adapt to an ever-changing global environment and take advantage of opportunities presented, whichever environment they find themselves. The alarmingly large percentages

who perceive migration, as a

first option, might diminish significantly. The impact on crime is likely to be tremendous.

Measures to ensure that each individual develops a strong sense of personal identify seems to be a good option to defuse the ticking time bomb. Two additional years in school may be our last hope of reaching many, and failure to reach them is already proving costly.

Austin D. Burrell

Former principal

Penwood High School