Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter
MORE RESOURCES to improve the chronic space shortage in primary and secondary schools and the allocation of more funds to shore up the Ministry of Education's drive to eliminate illiteracy in schools form part of president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), Michael Stewart's wish list for the new fiscal year.
But Stewart's desires might be far from being addressed effectively, as the education ministry's budget, both recurrent (housekeeping) and capital (development) expenditure, has been cut this year.
For the new fiscal year, the Government allocated approximately $73.3 billion to the ministry, nearly $2 billion less than the $75.1 billion set aside for the ministry in the last fiscal year.
Stewart told The Gleaner yesterday in an interview that the south-central region, including St Elizabeth, St Catherine, Clarendon and Manchester, was grappling with a serious space problem in schools.
He said because of the large dormitory community in Portmore, the population had increased significantly and this creates a space shortage in the St Catherine schools. "... It is a cause for concern at this time," he added.
The JTA president also commented on the large class sizes and how that would impact the literacy rate.
He stressed that with the 48,000 students writing GSAT today, come September there would be challenges in terms of class sizes and the "quality of education that we would need to see our students getting at this time".
It was estimated that about 100 new schools were needed to address the current space problems across the country.
In the estimates tabled yesterday, the Government has set aside $462.703 million for the Primary Education Support Project, which, among other things, is targeting the construction of primary and all-age schools.
This allocation represents just under a 33 per cent decline when compared with the $615 million pumped into the project last year.
The schools to be built this year are Fruitvale all-age and Mansfield primary. Construction will also begin on Hellshire and Red Hills Road primary schools.
Stewart is also hoping that the Government's social safety net spreads wide enough to cover the many rural parents struggling to keep their children in school.
"We know the challenges taking place as it relates to nutrition. A lot of the parents are unemployed, the cost of transportation in rural areas is going to be impacting on students getting to school regularly and that is going to be cause for concern by the JTA," he said.