More than 6,000 primary school students who have failed in four attempts to achieve mastery in the Grade Four Literacy Test are to be placed in special classroom settings designed to improve their literacy standards.
Education Minister Andrew Holness, quoting late Prime Minister Michael Manley in Parliament yesterday, said the new policy being undertaken was aimed at taking students out of the darkness and putting them in the light.
"Were we to leave them in the mainstream, they would be left behind. This is an opportunity for them to get a second chance," Holness said.
The minister told the House of Representatives that the programme - the Alternative Secondary Transition Education Programme (ASTEP) - will see ASTEP Centres being established in select primary, all-age and junior high schools across the island to host students who have not attained mastery of the Grade Four Literacy Test.
"At the end of the first year of ASTEP, some students will transition to secondary schools, and, therefore, it must be clearly understood that this is being done in line with assuring that every child can learn, every child must learn," Holness said.
The minister said that under the new programme, "specific and special learning needs will be addressed and their progress constantly assessed".
He added: "As soon as we are satisfied that the child has developed the literacy competence to function in secondary schools, the child will be allowed to transition."
But the new policy has not been immediately received with open arms by all members of the House of Representatives.
Former education minister, and opposition member, Maxine Henry-Wilson, said the policy represents a monumental shift and called for a full debate in the House on the matter.
Goal for 2015
She also questioned Holness on the progress of initiatives such as the establishment of a centre of excellence for teacher training as well as other input factors which, she said, were critical to Jamaica achieving 100 per cent literacy by 2015.
"The question of literacy as a national effort is something I would like us to speak to," Henry-Wilson said.
She also pointed out that 20 per cent of the population has learning difficulties, and argued that "our system has never taken account of the fact that children learn in different ways and in different environments".
Opposition MPs Dr Peter Phillips, Michael Peart and Dr Morais Guy also made contributions on the issue.
Holness, following the advice of members, has agreed to take the matter to Parliament for a full debate.