School furniture manufacturing, repairs boost local businesses
There are 1,010 public primary and secondary schools in operation across Jamaica. Each school day, just over 400,000 children attend those schools. Understandably, one of the biggest and growing calls on the Budget of the Ministry of Education and Youth is the need for additional and/or expanded infrastructure with respect to classrooms and furniture to outfit these amenities.
To help address this mammoth undertaking, the ministry has adopted a partnership approach. Simultaneously, the ministry continues to make major investments in the repairs and delivery of furniture.
Increases in, and the strengthening of partnerships alongside, direct and increased allocations from the ministry are yielding very good results.
This is why, for example, the majority of primary schools which requested desks and chairs received at least a portion in time for the start of this academic year.
The focus of the 2022-23 was predominantly on the infant and primary schools given that during the 2020-22 financial years, the focus was on secondary schools with a spend of $1.4 million per school for furniture, a total cost of $252 million.
The ministry was able to deliver 6,483 pieces of furniture to infant and primary schools in time for the beginning of 2022-23 school year.
Delivery of school furniture is an ongoing process. For the 2022-2023 school year, the following quantities of furniture have been delivered to schools.
Distributed to date for the 2022-2023 school year
Students’ desks and chairs distributed - 9,844
Desks and chairs distributed to infant schools - 3,794
Desks and chairs distributed for teachers - 1,142
Schools that received furniture directly from the Ministry of Education and Youth - 406
Before the end of February, 2023, the following are slated to be delivered:
a) Student desks and chairs - 2,200
b) Desks and chairs specifically for infants - 900
c) Teachers’ desks and chairs - 400
Partnerships bearing fruits
The ministry also continues to reap good fruits from its Select Group Programme (SGP), an initiative that facilitates the manufacture of school furniture from scratch by high-school students. The furniture is then used by the school and some are sold to adjoining schools.
Projects are carried out under the careful guidance and supervision of teachers. Sometimes suitably qualified and very skilled persons at the community level are also contracted as facilitators/supervisors.
Ten schools are at present in partnership with the ministry to manufacture furniture for school. Four of the 10 have actually commenced production. These are:
• Brown’s Town High – St Ann
• Vere Technical High School - Clarendon
• St Andrew Technical High – St Catherine
• Belmont Academy – Westmoreland
Distribution of furniture by these four schools is ongoing and each is required to manufacture 400 pieces (desks and chairs) each month. They commenced work on September 30, 2022, and will halt production on February 25, 2023, until the new contracts are signed for new financial year.
Alphansus Davis High School in Clarendon, Muschett High School in St Trelawny, and Port Antonio High in Portland are slated to start production of furniture for schools before the end of January 2023.
These three will be required to produce at least 200 pieces (desk and chairs) each month commencing January 2023. Production will be halted on March 25, 2023, until the new contracts are signed for the new financial year. The ministry is in discussions with the administrations of the following schools to get them involved in the Select Group Programme.
1. Ocho Rios High in St Ann
2. Central High in Clarendon
3. Oracabessa High in St Mary
The education ministry has considerably increased resources allocated to the Select Group Programme for 2022-23 as evidenced in table below.
Year Select Group Contracts High School Grants Total
2020/2021 COVID COVID 108,000,000 108,000,000
2021/2022 6,652,900 270,728,000 144,000,000 421,380,900
2022/2023 19,600,000 83,715,000 103,315,000
I am sure stakeholders are happy to hear that the Ministry of Education and Youth is gradually reducing its reliance on external foreign contractors/contracts as the major providers/source of furniture for our schools.This is a strategic move to help boost domestic entrepreneurship.
Significantly increasing opportunities for the hands-on training of our students in areas such as electrical technology, woodwork and joinery, metalwork, welding, and related areas at the school level is an obvious win-win for the Jamaican people and economy. The ministry is committed to rewarding and developing local talent.
Consistent with our partnership model, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) visits the school sites where the manufacture and repairs of furniture take place, checks the quality of the product, and gives its stamp of approval consistent with its rigorous standards.
The Select Group Programme and related projects are a win-win for all the stakeholders.
The Select Group Programme, in particular, has provided an economic and social boost for students and skilled persons in numerous communities, while eliciting great creativity in workmanship and use of different materials.
Full STEAM Ahead!
In addition, the ministry has commenced work to utilise the Jamaica Safe School Project Database to function as a property maintenance management database. This will alert and cue maintenance projects throughout the education system.
There are plans to construct six science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) schools, and a performing arts school in the coming years. Prime Minister Andrew Holness led the ceremony in October 2022 for the first of these schools, which will be located in Dunbeholden, St Catherine.
STEAM programmes are critical in preparing today’s children to become the innovators and inventors of tomorrow. STEAM-centred education helps children with far more than science and mathematics concepts. STEAM is also heavily focused on hands-on learning and real-world applications for the 21st-century. Within the wide arena of STEAM, there are some growth areas that are expanding rapidly. Robotics is one and coding is another.
The ministry is encouraged by the steady expansion of robotics engineering in our schools. The local pioneering work of stakeholders at Jamaica College, Calabar High, Wolmer’s High School for Girls and Wolmer’sBoys’ schools, Ardenne High, Kingston College, York Castle High, Glenmuir High, Convent of Mercy (Alpha) and Immaculate Conception High in robotics is a credit to those institutions.
The international recognition gained by these award-winning schools should be celebrated and emulated.
Coding, the process of writing computer programmes, is a growth area to which the ministry is giving much focus. Last year, approximately 5,000 students were registered for the National Coding in Schools Programme.
Some 400,000 students from grades one to 13 in public schools across Jamaica, for example, will benefit from a partnership with Amber Group Limited, which was launched by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in 2021.
The government is pulling out all the stops to ensure that Jamaica is not left behind in a world where rapid economic growth is dependent on timely access to information technologies. The government believes our people are innately gifted. We have the ability not only to be users of technologies, but, more important, creators, too.
Consequently, the government is committed to redoubling all efforts to ensure that access to good-quality education is provided to all our children.
Fayval Williams is the minister of education and youth and member of parliament for St Andrew Eastern. Email feedback to email@example.com.