Scrap agricultural focus at Knockalva and Sydney Pagon, says Andrew Holness
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness has suggested a change in focus for the Knockalva and Sydney Pagon agricultural schools, saying consideration should be given to converting them into general education institutions.
"You are spending somewhere in the region of $150 million every year on these two schools ... . If it is that the objective is to promote agriculture widely, then maybe the consideration should be the spread of agricultural education generally throughout the schools," Holness said.
The Government is to spend $606.4 million on agricultural education in 2015-2016, which is down from $617.3 million this fiscal year.
The expenditure is for specialist training in agricultural education in three institutions - the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), Knockalva and Sydney Pagon agricultural schools.
CASE, which has been allocated $461 million, provides training at the tertiary level while Knockalva, which has been allocated $56.7 million, and Sydney Pagon ($90.5 million) provide training at the secondary level.
Holness said he is concerned with the focus on agricultural schools at the secondary level, stating that "these schools, over many years, have not performed according to the expected levels that we would like".
He suggested that Jamaica may be starting specialisation too early in these schools.
"Shouldn't specialisation in agriculture be a postsecondary endeavour rather than starting it so early? Maybe we need to rethink that. Wouldn't it be better to have these institutions transferred over to the Ministry of Agriculture?" he added.
He noted that the education ministry is this year taking over the training of nurses from the Ministry of Health and argued that as a matter of policy, specialisations such as agricultural and nursing education "should go in the ministry where those specialisations are better administered".
not always educational
"Although it is training, some of those specialisations might not necessarily be education matters," Holness said.
Ronald Thwaites, the minister of education, said the matter raised by Holness is a "very significant" one. He noted, however, that "it is the general policy of the State, transcending all administrations, that all education, be it medical, agricultural, veterinary, nursing, should fall under the Ministry of Education."
"We need more students to be involved in agriculture. The question of early specialization is one that perhaps I would wish to discuss with your further," the minister told Holness.
"My own view, and that of the ministry, is that we need a much greater concentration on science early as a platform for many aspects of technical education, particularly of agricultural education and, therefore, the emphasis is to guide our students towards areas of integrated science and then towards natural science at the earliest opportunity, and to encourage their career orientations towards scientific orientation at the tertiary level," the minister said.
Raymond Pryce, the member of parliament for North East St Elizabeth where Sydney Pagon is situated, said a repositioning of the institution has made it more attractive as a learning institution.
"What we are seeing is people asking for their students to be transferred from other schools to the Sydney Pagon STEM academy," Pryce said.