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VIDEO: Business kids

Junior Achievement programme to give Grade 5 students work experience

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, June 03, 2014    

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GRADE five students in primary schools across the island will gain hands-on experience in the work world through a special business assimilation programme to be rolled out by Junior Achievement Jamaica (JAJ) in October.

Under the programme, dubbed JA BizTown, the students will be exposed to four weeks of in-class business education, finance and economics and a one-day simulation exercise in running a business at a specially outfitted facility, currently under construction at Caenwood Centre on Arnold Road in Kingston.

The localised version of this American-based Junior Achievement programme is being done in partnership with the Rotary Club of Kingston, the private sector, and the Ministry of Education.

Through this collaboration, the education ministry has made available a facility at the Caenwood Centre, which is being renovated by the Rotary Club of Kingston to house models of 11 Jamaican companies which will allow students the opportunity to assimilate various business operations for a day.

Stakeholders in the project, who were addressing reporters and editors at the weekly Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper's head offices in Kingston yesterday, described JA BizTown as a "practical experience" for these students.

"They will learn in class first for four weeks about their community, economy, jobs, [and] work readiness skills. They will understand how to open a bank account, [put together an] organisation chart, and just different things that happen in the work environment," JAJ President Alphie Mullings-Aiken explained.

Following the classroom lessons, Mullings-Aiken said the students will make a one-day field trip to the Caenwood facility, where they will work in one of the 11 store front operations which will replicate businesses within Jamaica. At least 10,000 students are expected to benefit from the programme yearly.

"They will have to open up a bank account when they get their pay cheque, so it will be a real life experience for them," she said.

First female president of the Rotary Club of Kingston Allison Peart said under her tenure, the service club sought to embark on a project that will change the future of Jamaica and an area that was found to be lacking was financial literacy education.

"I saw this programme in several places in North America, but there was nothing in the Caribbean or Latin America. And when you look at communities that have these BizTowns and financial literacy, it transformed kids into adults who understand how to manage their money and this is most useful," said Peart, who is also head of the accounting firm Ernst & Young.

According to Peart, the first hurdle in rolling out the programme in Jamaica was how to make it cost-effective. Its counterpart in Tampa in the United States, which is the mentor for this programme, costs up to US$20 million to be implemented.

However, through commitment from private sector and individuals, Peart said they were able to get support in both cash and kind, resulting in the club having to raise only J$20 million to renovate and retrofit the JA BizTown facility.

She further noted that of the 34,000 projects undertaken this year by Rotarians worldwide, JA BizTown was highlighted as number three. As such, she lauded the collaboration of public private/NGO partnership in helping to get the programme off the ground within her year's tenure as president. Phase one of the project will be turned over to JAJ by the end of June, followed by phase two in July.

Chairman of the JAJ board and president of Insurance Company of the West Indies Paul Lalor said they deliberately wanted to bring the programme into primary schools so the students can begin to acquire this type of knowledge at a much earlier age.

"We wanted to start this process much earlier so that we are beginning to teach our kids a completely different set of money lessons that many of their parents have not received in their lives. So we want to make this thing sustainable with the help of the private sector and Government," he said.

The Government, according to Lalor, will see the importance of having an external non-governmental organisation contribute to the curriculum of Jamaican schools in the way that is being done now.

"So my role for the next couple of years is to dig deep into the private sector pockets and get to the numbers that we want to, so this programme is sustainable for the next 20 to 25 years," he told the Exchange.

Among the industry types that JA BizTown is aiming at attracting is an Internet provider, telephone company, power provider, bank, insurance company, a food provider, and an audit firm.

Chief education officer at the Ministry of Education Dr Grace McLean said this is an opportunity to continue to offer customised education to the nation's children to ensure that they are adequately and competently prepared for the world of work.

"The education system, traditionally, is where we prepare our students for tertiary education and then work, but we have found that over time our students, when they leave the tertiary level, they are not able to transition seamlessly into work, and so our employers now have the responsibility of retraining some of them so they can understand how businesses operate," she explained.

She noted, however, that this programme is expected to improve the students' general understanding of entrepreneurship, which is new to the education system but which the ministry is intent on offering to all students in the short run.

"So it is not only about preparing yourself to be employed by a corporate company, it is also to prepare them to create employment for themselves," Dr McLean said.

"When the students come to BizTown this will be structured in the field trip activities they will have as part of the curriculum, and they will have to write about it, discuss it in various lessons with their teachers, and this will form a part of the assignments that will contribute to their overall grades," she said.

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