OPPOSITION Leader Andrew Holness has expressed disappointment over the Government's treatment of the Career Advancement Programme (CAP) — a remedial and skills training programme offered by the Ministry of Education to unattached youth between 15 and 18.
Offered as an after-school programme in more than 60 high schools across the country, CAP exposes participating students to a mix of academic subjects and vocational skills, as well as career counselling, mentorship and training in life skills, entrepreneurship and personal development.
Holness contends that instead of injecting more funds into the programme, the Government has decided to reduce funding.
Holness, who introduced the programme while he was education minister, is of the view that the Government's focus on early childhood education has caused it to reduce the support to programmes such as CAP.
"Once you have persons who did not benefit from the formal five years of secondary school you can't just discard them. They are the ones closest to market, they are the ones you are going to need to be productive in the economy so you have to invest in them," Holness argued as he addressed journalists at the Jamaica Observer last week.
The programme was the subject of much controversy late last year when the Government moved to replace the coordinators with recruits under the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP).
The decision was reportedly based on the premise that the existing programme coordinators were already employed as teachers, and should therefore make way for other qualified persons, particularly teachers' college graduates, who had been unable to find jobs.
In addition, a senior official of the education ministry — who at the time spoke on condition of anonymity — said the ministry had serious concerns about how the programme was being managed at the school level and was not satisfied with student performance at many of the schools.
The official explained that the introduction of the new coordinators formed part of efforts to guarantee better returns on Government's investment, and to ensure that school principals, provide more effective oversight.
But, some school principals have opposed the move arguing that teachers, fresh out of college, were ill-equipped to coordinate the programme — a point which has reiterated by some of their colleagues who have been raising concerns about the performance of persons recruited under the JEEP.
"They have cut the budget when there is the need to increase the budget and increase the support," Holness lamented, even as he made it clear that he has no issue with pronouncements by Education Minister Ronald Thwaites that every effort must be made to prevent the need for remediation.
Holness says while he is in full support of getting it right the first time, those school leavers who need a second chance should not be thrown through the window.
Last year, Thwaites emphasised that the CAP was costing the Government $800 million each year, while another remedial programme, the Alternative Secondary Transition Education Programme (ASTEP), which targets students with reading challenges, cost hundreds of millions a year.
Holness is encouraging Thwaites not to dismantle CAP or ASTEP, but commended the education ministry on its decision to continue with several of the initiatives that were introduced under his watch as minister.
According to him, some of these initiatives are responsible for the improvements in performance in national tests at the primary level.