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Facts on 'renting' space in private schools

Published:Wednesday | August 27, 2014 | 8:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

I have noted what has the potential to become an increasingly acrimonious public debate around the Government's provision of spaces in private institutions. I seek to provide some facts and clarify any misconceptions or confusion.

First, for about the past two decades, the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) rented spaces in several private secondary institutions. This was in an attempt to fulfil the policy commitment of universal secondary education. Having made this commitment, it was impossible for the Government to provide, in a timely manner, adequate places, especially at grades 10 and 11. This is despite a massive school-building programme, including 17 schools on the north coast. After the GSAT and GNAT examinations, there were about 3,000 to 5,000 students who would not have a space in the secondary system.

At that time, the demographic forecast indicated that, whereas there was then a population bulge in the secondary-age cohort, the numbers would be reduced within about five to 10 years — the situation we are now experiencing — resulting in there being no further need to rent spaces. In this context, there was the question as to whether there should be massive investment in the construction of classroom spaces, or alternative approaches taken.

significant capital outlay

Private-public partnership was identified as a possible option, which would not require significant capital outlay. Further, the overflow of students was in specific geographical areas, for example, the Kingston Metropolitan Region (including Portmore), the Falmouth to Ocho Rios coast (including Steer Town), and the swathe from Santa Cruz to Christiana. In the case of the KMR, the situation became more acute with the request from the lessors for the return of one of their properties' viz The Priory High School.

The GOJ paid a per-capita fee for students placed in the private facilities. This was comparable to the annual cost of maintaining a student in a school in the public-school system. Simultaneously, the students received all the benefits that were given to those in the public institutions, for example, provision of books, PATH provisions where necessary, payment for examinations, etc. It should be pointed out that there was a collateral benefit for many of the students, given the smaller class sizes and more personal learning environments of the private facilities.

Teachers in the private institutions were incorporated into the professional development workshops conducted by the Ministry of Education.

I trust these reminders will serve to inform the further public debate.

MAXINE HENRY-WILSON

CEO/Commissioner

Jamaica Tertiary Education

Commission