Rural underdevelopment strangling Hanover’s schools
Based on research done by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI), rural underdevelopment is the main reason for declining student enrolment at several of the primary and all-age schools in Hanover that are now operating far below their carrying capacity.
Between 2013 and 2014, the NEI conducted an assessment of schools in the parish as part of an islandwide project to ascertain the standards attained by students at key points during their education. The assessment showed that schools in the deep rural mountainous farming communities such as Jericho, Friendship, Askenish, and Clifton were being affected by underdevelopment.
Hillsbrook All-Age School, another of the rural schools, had the dubious distinction of being the only school in the Ministry of Education's Region Four to be ordered permanently closed last year due to low enrolment. It should also be noted that the Jericho Primary School in eastern Hanover had only 31 students on roll despite having a capacity of 200.
LOW-INCOME FAMILIES SUPPORT SCHOOL
"The very few students who attend the school are from very low-income families as parents who are able to afford it, send their children to the larger primary schools that are also closer to, or within, the town of Lucea," the research stated.
The Friendship Primary School, also in eastern Hanover, was described as being woefully underpopulated, with a student count of 26, even though it had a capacity of 270. It also had a pupil-teacher ratio of nine to one and most students were on the PATH programme.
"In Friendship, the younger people tend to move out in search of jobs and modern amenities," the research noted. "This is primarily due to the extremely deplorable conditions of the road, the unavailability of running water, the absence of any form of public transportation, and the lack of economic opportunities within the community.
"Most individuals in the community, including teachers and students, have to travel on foot to the neighbouring community of Copse, four miles away, to get access to public transportation. The current population of the community stands at about 98 persons, including the children. Consequently, it has been extremely difficult to increase the enrolment at this school," the report continued.
In the community of Clifton, in western Hanover, the 59-year-old primary school, which had a capacity of 140, had an enrolment of only 56, despite receiving a satisfactory grade for overall effectiveness.
"Clifton and surrounding communities are predominantly subsistence farming areas, thus, there are limited opportunities for other employment outside of the sector," the report stated. "Over the years, the school's enrolment has decreased as parents seek to secure employment in the urban areas of Lucea and Montego Bay, therefore enrolling their children in the schools located in those areas."
The situation was not much different at the neighbouring Askenish All-Age School, where the student population was listed as 188 out of a capacity of 295. Of the 188 students, 63 per cent were on the PATH programme.
"Most students are from low socio-economic backgrounds as most families are unemployed due to the closure of the Jockey Garment factory. The community suffers severe brain drain as most educated or qualified persons migrate in search of better job opportunities," the report stated.