By Petulia Clarke, Staff Reporter
EVERYTHING IS in place for the re-opening of schools this week, says Senator Burchell Whiteman, the Education and Culture Minister, on Friday gave the assurance that everything was "as ready as is humanly possible."
"I would never predict that there will be no problems. There's always human error, there'll always be glitches in the plans that one makes," he said. "But as far as all the reports go, in terms of the basic requirements for the efficient start-up of school, we are on target."
For most schools, particularly primary and secondary institutions, the new school-year begins today. Students, however, will be seeing changes in the education system unparalleled with years past.
This school year, students planning to sit the Caribbean Examin-ations Council (CXC) exams will have some subjects paid for by the Government, according to an announcement made last week by Prime Minister P. J. Patterson.
Others will see what the Government says is the beginning of the phasing out of cost-sharing in secondary schools. The issue of free education has focused intensive attention on the school system with both major political parties now promising free education at the secondary level the opposition Jamaica Labour Party by 2003 and the ruling People's National Party by 2005 depending on which one wins the election.
With regard to sanitation, roofing, water supply and furniture, Mr. Whiteman said the schools were in good condition.
"This is not to say that the ongoing maintenance and repair programme for the institutions for which we have responsibility will come to an end before Monday (today)," he said. "That is not the case and never has been. Work goes on in the course of the year, but in terms of readiness and being able to start and proceed without major interruptions, we are of course on track."
On the issue of student health, plans are also far advanced to have a written school policy on how to deal with students who are affected by or living with HIV/AIDS, ready for implementation before year-end. The policy is in its final stages of approval in the Ministry of Education. It will leave the Ministry, then be sent to Cabinet for approval.
The guidelines on the management of HIV/AIDS in schools have been in the works since the last quarter of 2000. Last year, The Gleaner reported that administrators of schools ranging from infant level to community colleges, were uncertain on how they would react if it were discovered that a student or a close relative of a student had HIV. This uncertainty existed in spite of data from the Ministry of Health showing that the number of reported paediatric and other HIV cases have been increasing each year.
Another interesting innovation this new school year involves 180 boys aged 15 to 17 years, with disciplinary problems. They have been sent to "truancy camp" in Trelawny. The camp is a Ministry of Education-Jamaica Chamber of Commerce initiative which will run until September 25 and should teach proper discipline to the boys all of whom have been recommended for behavioural problems.
This is the Government's response to an escalation of school violence in the just-ended school year during which, up to May, there were at least 40 cases of violence involving bodily harm.
The camp is to complement the mechanisms under the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), which is expected to help needy students. The PATH programme is being piloted in St. Catherine where Mr. Whiteman said that the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has been seeking to qualify and register the parents who were to benefit.
"They have substantially completed that work," he said. "The programme has identified all the students on their assessment who would qualify for full assistance from the Government and those lists have been made available."