Below is Education Minister Ronald Thwaites' back-to-school address broadcasted yesterday evening.
The education system officially opens its doors today to more than 600,000 students at all levels for the new school year, providing them with the opportunity to better themselves. Education remains the best vehicle to pull Jamaica out of its prolonged economic depression towards the prospect of growth and development.
Last school year, the improved results in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations in English language and mathematics demonstrated that the education system has begun to respond positively to efforts to raise the quality of outcomes.
As we enter the new school year, the focus of the Ministry of Education is to implement policies and programmes to sustain these early gains in student achievement. Nothing else matters as much.
In this regard, starting Monday, we will be sending out 80 maths coaches and specialists to 150 primary and secondary schools with the aim of improving the teaching skills of mathematics teachers. We know we can rely on teachers to support this effort to raise student performance in this crucial subject.
Principals and department heads have already been trained to lead the mathematics revolution in Jamaica, and the ministry is depending on them to ensure the successful implementation of this initiative in accordance with the National Mathematics Policy.
Why this focus on mathematics? We have to 'Count on Maths' for our economic success, as mastery of the subject is a predictor of a country's ability to take advantage of economic opportunities in the 21st century.
SPACE FOR ALL
During the new school year, the country will achieve the target of grade-four students attaining mastery in literacy.
There is adequate space to accommodate all the students who will enter schools at the early childhood, primary and secondary levels starting tomorrow.
Mount St Joseph Catholic High School in Mandeville will open its doors as a grant-aided institution with approximately 180 grade-seven students and a smaller number of sixth-formers.
In addition, 16 schools - three high and 13 primary and junior high - will be taken off the shift system to allow for a more effective delivery of the curriculum and efficient administration of the institutions.
The new school year brings expanded educational opportunities for students and parents in west St Thomas, where the ministry has brought together Paul Bogle, Robert Lightbourne and Seaforth high schools into a district under common management. The aim is to efficiently utilise human and physical resources in order to improve student achievement. We are going to do the same in other places to better utilise teachers and school plant.
Adequate nutritional intake is critical to learning and development, especially among students at the early-childhood level. With research pointing to significant portion of these children arriving at school hungry, starting in the new school year, Government will provide breakfast and lunch free or at little cost to about 200,000 students in the early-childhood cohort.
Some schools will serve prepackaged meals prepared by Nutrition Products Limited, while others will prepare meals locally in accordance with the ministry's nutritional guidelines.
Regarding the impact of the drought on schools, the Ministry of Education has collaborated with the ministries of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, as well as Local Government, to make sure that at least some water is available to every school. Parents should try to provide drinking water and communities must not use school water, but, instead, help to supply schools where necessary.
Likewise, the Ministry of Health has provided education officials and school personnel with precautionary information about Chik-V and other public-health risks.
FUNDS FOR EMERGENCY REPAIRS
Adequate furniture and equipment are in place to allow for the opening of schools tomorrow. All schools have received funds to carry out emergency repairs. Although some repair works may continue beyond the start of the year, they are not expected to interrupt normal school operations.
We invite school administrators, parents and members of the public to call the ministry's regional offices to lodge queries or reports concerning the proper functioning of the education system.
Regarding textbooks, the Ministry of Education wishes to assure the public that Government has provided adequate books for primary and secondary schools based on the needs of the curriculum.
Do not be pressured to buy any book that is not on a Ministry of Education-approved book list. Where additional books to those provided by Government are needed, you don't need to get them all at once. Ask the teacher which is needed first and get that one.
In closing, the Ministry of Education commends the army of dedicated teachers and parents who stuck to their tasks last year and made measurable improvements in the educational status of their students.
We are on the right road to greater student achievement. All indicators show that we will get there as a society with the enthusiastic participation of teachers and all stakeholders. We challenge teachers, school leaders and the society in general to keep the positive momentum going in order to make excellence the norm.