MOST Corporate Area schools on Monday reported a smooth start to the new school year, with the exception of challenges experienced with shortage of furniture.
Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites confirmed that schools had not received requested desks and benches.
Speaking to the Jamaica Observer on a tour of schools in the area, he said school furniture had not been included in the ministry's budget and asked schools to "refurbish where they can, lend where they must" and report deficiencies to the ministry.
"The ministry had no budget for furniture but we are anxious to have repairs as much as possible," Thwaites said.
He said the ministry has had several offers of donations of desks and benches, including from Food For the Poor and the CHASE Fund.
Principal of Dunrobin Primary Robert Gillies said his school requested 50 new pieces of furniture, but did not receive any.
However, he said, the school found alternative ways of dealing with the shortage.
"When we realised we would not be getting [any furniture] I had somebody come in and repair some benches and we made one or two so that is helping us to fill that gap," said Gillies, who spent the morning attending to parents with last-minute issues.
Alpha Primary Principal, Milicent Graham said the first day went smoothly.
She, too, had expected to receive new furniture but did not.
"We would like a few [pieces] but we are making do with what we have. I don't think there is a major problem. There are little inconveniences here and there but nothing we can't work with," Graham said.
She said, overall, they were off to a good start, as all grades were in place and all teachers had returned.
Meanwhile, Thwaites, who visited some 15 schools Monday, said reports from officers out in the field were that the schools were coping with the shortage of furniture.
He said the expectation for the new school year is that everyone will accept that education is the number one priority for the nation and that "lifting up our children" is the first responsibility of parents and communities.
The minister made a stop at Holy Trinity High School, one of four schools fingered last year as failing schools. He said he wanted to find out how the school was planning to ensure that foundation areas of literacy and mathematics would be focused on.
Principal Sadpha Bennett said the school will be embarking on a new programme to place emphasis on those foundation areas and is retraining teachers in this regard. He said as part of the programme, the number of subjects for grade seven students was decreased from 13 to seven to allow focus to be placed on solving literacy and numeracy challenges.
Thwaites hailed the programme as excellent.