Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Wednesday | July 22, 2009
Home : Commentary
No trade-offs with quality education


The following are excerpts from Education Minister Andrew Holness' contribution to the Sectoral Debate in Parliament yesterday.

The Government of Jamaica will continue the struggle to improve access to quality education. However, we are cognisant of the fact that there can be no trade-offs with quality. Poor-quality education is a barrier to access at the secondary level no matter how many secondary school places we build. The Government is, therefore, focused on attaining 100 per cent literacy at the primary level and we have adopted a new transition policy that requires literacy as a condition to be placed in a high school.

This will have the effect of improving performance at the secondary level over time. Teachers and parents must be held accountable for the literacy development of the children in their care and tutelage. The science and pedagogy of teaching reading and writing skills is well known, it is not a mystery, we know how to teach even the most challenged student, how to read.

Leadership issue

The failure to deliver literacy at the primary level is squarely a management and leadership issue. It is also the fault of unconcerned parents, who leave the education of their children up to the teacher only. The ministry will be launching its national campaign to raise awareness of parents on the importance of literacy. The national parenting policy will be placed before Cabinet in August and the legislative agenda for the National Parenting Support Commission is under way.

In the final analysis, principals must be held accountable for the programmes and initiatives they put in place to support literacy, including mobilising parents. It cannot be that all stakeholders point the finger of blame at each other. To solve the problem, accountability must start with someone. In this instance, I start with myself, holding myself accountable for the national targets, and then cascading this down in an accountability matrix for all agents involved in the education process.

We have to build more schools to give more of our youth access to better life chances. We plan to build 100 more schools in the short term, this will be the largest school construction in Jamaica's history. Such a massive construction project can have a huge positive impact on the economy and lay the framework for public private partnerships (PPPs) in other areas of infrastructure. If we make the investment today, we would not need to build any new schools for some time to come, as the population growth trend is declining. This means that if we build these schools and attain full universal secondary education, we can then turn our focus to replacing, refurbishing and maintaining the existing education infrastructure, some of which have not received attention in over 50 years.

A new framework

The Government has also adopted a new framework for securing the quality of education in schools. All new schools will operated under a scheme called the Centre of Excellence. We are now considering legislation to support this scheme called the School Improvement Act. The main objective of the Centre of Excellence is to meet and exceed the standards set for secondary educational institutions by the establishment and maintenance of an ethos and institutional culture of excellence in all aspects of the school's academic, administrative and operational programmes and activities.

It is necessary to ensure that all new schools are centres of excellence that parents will choose to send their children. The problem with GSAT as a placement mechanism is that it used to ration 12,000 places in the top 50 most preferred schools to 40,000 students seeking them as their first choice. The problem with GSAT is that there is just not enough preferred quality places. If we are going to build more schools, it is a waste of money if students do not want to attend or parents have low expectations of the school. All new schools must provide a quality place for students transitioning from primary. There will be not trade-offs between access and quality.

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