SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth - Arguing that political divisiveness has undermined progress for too long, Member of Parliament for South East St Elizabeth Richard Parchment says he wants to be the "change agent" towards a more united approach to education in the constituency.
Parchment, who won the seat for the ruling People's National Party (PNP) in last December's general election, told a Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) awards ceremony recently that he intended to ignore the old political divisions as he pushed to advance education, which he described as the key to human development.
"I have received criticism from even within my own party because a lot of the awardees today are coming from JLP (opposition Jamaica Labour Party) homes, but that doesn't matter me," Parchment told students, parents, teachers, and guests at the Refuge Temple in Myersville, SE St Elizabeth.
"Some people say if you continue like this, you going to be a one-term member of Parliament; I say if is one-term, it is going to be one good term," Parchment added, to loud applause from his audience which included Education Minister Ronnie Thwaites.
Fifty GSAT high achievers each received $20,000 from Parchment's Constituency Development Fund to cover expenses associated with their entry to high schools in St Elizabeth and neighbouring Manchester.
The awardees were selected by their primary school principals on the bases of achievement and perceived need.
Parchment said he regretted that while there was agreement that "education can be the solution" to the nation's ills, there had not been any "sustained investment in education" at the level necessary to achieve the required growth and development.
However, he ridiculed those who would suggest that there has been no educational progress in Jamaica since Independence from Britain, 50 years ago.
Citing St Elizabeth's two most prestigious high schools, Munro College (for boys) and Hampton (for girls) as examples, Parchment said access to high schools for the nation's poorest was an indicator that should not be ignored.
"Dicky (Parchment), my brother, entered Munro in 1962. Before that, the only time we could go to Hampton and Munro is if we were cooking, washing, cleaning, or cutting the lawn," he said.
The MP said he would be working with the schools and the Ministry of Education to achieve targets in literacy and numeracy. He also pledged to improve the provision of water to the institutions in the constituency and to do his part in replacing pit toilets with water closets.
Noting that the shift system adversely affected students, especially those forced to travel long distances, Parchment commended Thwaites for the initiative to build public/private partnerships in order to provide additional school accommodation.
He noted that the Refuge Temple, though a church, had for several years run a school to serve the community and that it was ready to partner with the Government.