Careers & Education

ASTEP has failed — Thwaites

Luke Douglas

Sunday, December 16, 2012    

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THE Alternative Secondary Transition Education Programme (ASTEP) is not achieving its objective and is undergoing reform.

Education Minister Rev Ronald Thwaites made the revelation last Wednesday when, supported by his senior staff, he admitted that a lack of resources and appropriate staff had contributed to the failure of the programme.

ASTEP was launched in September 2011 with the promise of transforming into readers students who completed primary school without being certified literate.

A major initiative of then Minister of Education and later Prime Minister Andrew Holness, it targeted nearly 6,000 students, mostly boys, who completed their years in primary school but were barred from sitting the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) because they were unable to master the Grade Four Literacy Test even after as many as four attempts.

But a year and four months into the programme, Thwaites has said it is not working and changes will be announced in two months.

"It is worrying. The programme fairly can be said not to be achieving principal intent of helping students to catch up so that they can be transitioned somewhere into the education system," he said.

However, Thwaites said the programme, for which he has received a comprehensive review, will not be scrapped.

"There is no intention to abandon such a programme, but we must take what is a vital and expensive process and make sure it is functioning in the best way possible," he said, noting that he wanted to hear from "everyone in the partnership of education" on the way forward.

ASTEP was in for a rocky journey from its inception.

When the programme was announced, students were to undergo psychological assessment before being placed in ASTEP centres which were supposed to be specialised learning environments with small class sizes, access to information and communication technology help from special educators, reading specialists and guidance counsellors.

But months into the programme, principals began to complain about a lack of promised equipment, material and staff.

Thwaites attested to this.

"In many instances the ministry did not provide the kind of material needed to support the ASTEP and we are disposed to correct this as soon as possible," he said.

He was supported by his senior advisor Radley Reid who said "many of the students have from mild to severe learning disabilities and need special education, and that was not provided at that particular time".

Further, Thwaites disclosed that many students did not show up for classes and the teachers were ineffective.

Reid concurred, noting that many students were demotivated and had a poor attitude.

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