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Grade five students to run businesses

BY KARIM SMITH Observer writer

Friday, January 24, 2014    

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JAMAICA is to become the first country in the Caribbean and Latin America to have a Junior Achievement Biztown (JA Biztown), a model business town in which students in Grade Five will be allowed to run their own businesses while learning the basics of financial responsibility.

The announcement came last Friday at the groundbreaking ceremony at Caenwood Centre, St Andrew.

JA Biztown is the Rotary Club of Kingston's major project for 2013-14.

"The aim of the project is to get 10,000 students across the island at Grade 5 level to participate and discover practical life skills that they can take with them for life. By participating, students will get a taste of the real world," said Allison Peart, president of the Rotary Club of Kingston.

"In North America there are successful companies that have been started before getting to grade five and I don't see why that couldn't happen in Jamaica," she told the Jamaica Observer.

She added that while the project targets students in Grade Five, there are other projects that the Junior Achievers Jamaica (JAJ) has for other grades.

"We chose to focus on students at the grade five level as we believe that at that level they are at the point of their lives where this information will be most vital, especially basic things like opening a bank account, which you may never learn in a classroom. JA Biztown will teach students this and many more valuable life lessons. We want our nation's youth to not just to be scholars but financially literate," Peart explained.

Minister of State in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining and Member of Parliament for South Eastern St Andrew, Julian Robinson, who attended the groundbreaking ceremony, said he was happy the project would be based in his constituency. He also stressed the need for young people to become business-minded.

"We have inherited a system that has traditionally prepared us to look for jobs within the public sector. This project will help youngsters from Grade 5 onwards to understand what entrepreneurship means; what it means to develop an idea from start to finish. The reality is that there is no company or government that can provide all the jobs for its people and we have to start to sensitise them that they may have to go out and create their own jobs," Robinson said.

The project is to be housed in a building provided by the Ministry of Education. Peart said that renovations to the building would cost an estimated $20 million.

She said the project team "has been seeking sponsorship from corporate companies and has already received $6 million from the Jamaica Yellow Pages and Ernst and Young".

"The building will be fully refurbished as well as additions will be made to the existing building as there will be kiosks that will be built on the site. Another feature that we are excited about is that the site will be self-sufficient as we will have solar panels (for) power," Peart said.

Alphie Mullings-Aiken, Junior Achievement Jamaica (JAJ), said more corporate sponsors should partner with the project on a more sustained basis and not just help with the renovations. She said that sponsoring a store at the Biztown would be a good way to start.

Of the stores that will be operated by the students, JAJ hopes to have media outlets, a bank, a restaurant, and a utility company.

"We want to have 11 stores on the site that will be operated by the students so that they can get a first-hand feel of what their parents go through. We are encouraging local businesses to sponsor storefronts which will add to the realistic experience," Aiken said.

JAJ has been in Jamaica since 2008, has been able to reach over 25,000 students in over 120 schools, as well as youth groups across the island.

The Biztown is expected to be completed by June.

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