Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
The Jamaican Government has spent just over $1.6 billion of taxpayers' money on the Ministry of Education's Career Advancement Programme (CAP) that has enrolled thousands of students since its inception three years ago, with little to show for this spending.
Information obtained from the State's training agency, HEART Trust/NTA, showed that CAP, which is designed to train and certify thousands of unattached youths, is failing to meet its main objective.
While thousands of students have been registered for the training programme, the vast majority are leaving without being certified as competent in their vocational area of study.
The dismal certification data has some critics suggesting that, perhaps, CAP is not a perfect fit for the problem it was designed to remedy.
Since January 2010, of the thousands of students who have participated in CAP, only 872 of them have been certified as competent in their vocational field of study.
During the 2010-2011 financial year, $390.8 million was pumped into the programme, but only two students were certified competent after assessments were conducted by the National Council on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (NCTVET).
Elaine Foster Allen, the recently appointed permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, told our news team that the poor showing is worrying.
"We are concerned about what is happening under CAP," said Foster Allen.
OUTCOME NOT GOOD
She argued that while the throughput or enrolment figures are good, the outcome or number of students being certified is the reason for the ministry's consternation.
"It is something we are looking at … . Value for money is really the question," added Foster Allen.
Cedric McCulloch, acting executive director of the HEART Trust/NTA, revealed that for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, $680 million was spent on the education initiative and 150 students were found to be competent in their areas of study after being assessed by appraisers from NCTVET.
A total of 720 students have received certification so far this financial year, with the ministry spending approximately $470 million of the $700 million budgeted.
Back in 2009, the Government announced that it was to spend $82 million on approximately 2,000 students in 11 selected public high schools under CAP.
However, between January and March 2010, the Government actually spent $91.2 million to kick-start the programme.
No student was certified during that period because the training for each vocational course is usually six to nine months.
According to McCulloch, the HEART/Trust NTA funds CAP, but it is managed by the education ministry.
"The Ministry of Education advises when the students are ready to be tested and the NCTVET goes in and does the testing and certification," said McCulloch.
In the meantime, well-placed sources have told The Sunday Gleaner that the Auditor General's Department has questioned whether taxpayers are receiving value for money as the spend on CAP is not delivering the desired outcome.
The management of the HEART Trust/NTA has confirmed that members of the Auditor General's Department met with its team and raised questions about the programme.
EXTENDED SECONDARY YEARS
CAP, which was unveiled in Parliament in December 2009 by then Education Minister Andrew Holness, is designed to effectively extend the secondary curriculum by two years.
In cases where students do not matriculate to sixth form or to tertiary institutions, CAP was designed to give them two additional years to get ready for the world of work.
While making the case for the programme in Parliament at the time, Holness argued that the unattached students to be targeted by CAP had no qualifications and were "normally just left out of the labour market, left in limbo, unable to access any form of further education or training".
At that time, while many opposition members welcomed the programme, the current education minister, Ronald Thwaites, urged Holness to delay the January 2010 planned implementation.
Thwaites, the then opposition spokesman on education, argued that the programme should be subjected to the widest stakeholder consultation and required "a full discourse", which would "be appropriately done in a committee of Parliament".
But Holness disagreed, pointing out that the Parliament had fully discussed the issue over many years and it was not the time for more talk but for action.
However, he agreed to further discussions while the ministry rolled out the programme.
Statistics made available by the Ministry of Education at that time indicated that the number of students leaving high school with no certification at all needed attention.
Of the more than 51,600 students of grade-11 age in 2008, only 40,690 were actually in school.
More than 9,000 of the students in school did not sit any examination, and of those who sat the examinations, 6,000 failed to achieve a passing grade in even a single subject at the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate level.
In October last year, the education ministry decided to replace the teachers involved with CAP with others selected under the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme.
Thwaites said the decision was made to relieve these teachers from the double duty of teaching during regular school hours and conducting CAP classes after school.