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Government to monitor private schools

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, August 27, 2014    

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CHIEF Education Officer in the Ministry of Education Dr Grace McLean says that the Government is moving to monitor the private education sector.

She said that, under the proposed policy, private schools would be redefined to include all levels and genres of the system, including lifelong learning.

"The aim of this is to redefine private schools in accordance with current trends and practices," McLean told Monday's opening session of the two-day National Teachers' Conference of the Jamaica Independent Schools Association (JISA), at the Madge Saunders Centre, Tower Isle, St Mary.

McLean said that the redefinition would also enable the ministry to identify, classify, register and recognise all private institutions offering education services.

"The current definition in the Education Act excludes students at the early childhood level, and also excludes a large number of learners at the post-secondary level. The Education Regulations will have to be changed to reflect this new definition," she said.

McLean said that the ministry will also create a management framework that adequately meets the operational needs of private institutions, in guaranteeing quality assurance, safety and security.

"It's proposed that this new management framework will see the ministry verifying the suitability of proprietors to provide education services, check private schools' adherence to safety and security guidelines, and monitor their adherence to Ministry guidelines on contact hours, curricula and age- appropriate instruction," she said.

The chief education officer also acknowledged that it would cost the Government approximately $16 billion, just for the plants now provided by private preparatory and secondary schools.

McLean said that there are more than 600 private educational institutions in Jamaica, offering pre-primary through post-secondary education. She pointed out that the 2006 Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions estimated that there were close to 71,000 students in these institutions.

She said that research has shown that private institutions provide a safety net for students who have not benefited sufficiently from the programmes offered in the public system.

She observed that they are also populated by students who prefer alternatives to public schools, or those who realise late in life the importance of certification. She also pointed out that private schools cater to students who are unable to access the public school system, especially at the upper secondary and tertiary levels, largely due to capacity issues and special needs.

"The existence of private school spaces means that families who make an education investment in non-government schools save the Jamaican taxpayers millions of dollars a year. It would cost the Government approximately $16 billion just to provide the plants now provided by private preparatory and secondary schools," she said.

President of JISA Pastor Wesley Boynes told the conference that the private educational institutions in Jamaica are positioned to become excellent partners in the education sector, working with the ministry to accomplish many of the objectives set by the minister and his team.

"I therefore believe that, in light of the social challenges, this is a perfect time and season for the Ministry of Education to build a partnership with the private schools, and not to dismantle our relationship and create distance," he said.

He added that the institutions continue to share a "deep concern" for the moral decline in the nation.

"We continue to move ahead to do our best to activate and mobilise private schools around the nation, and get them on board with this very important mission. We continue to awake them to the reality that true education is in fact the imparting of not knowledge, but of values," he stated.

He said that no plan to impact students can work without the integral involvement of teachers, and the participation of the ministry in sharing of the vision was very critical.

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