ALTHOUGH most schools are in a state of readiness for the beginning of the new school year today, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites says he has received reports that least three institutions could have their reopening affected because of "infrastructure challenges".
"I was instructed this morning (Sunday) that there are three schools in St Thomas that have indicated problems, [but] the ministry has made appropriate interventions. As far as we know, principals and teachers and communities have been doing their very best to be ready for tomorrow," the education minister told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
"One had a roof that needed significant repairs, and another one I know involved a staircase that was proving unsafe," said Thwaites, who noted that these institutions were at the primary level.
Among the over 1,100 public schools that will be opening their doors today will be the Cedar Grove Academy in Portmore, St Catherine, where Grade Seven students will be welcomed for the first time at the institution. It was previously announced that the school would not be able to accommodate these students in time for the new academic year and that arrangements were being made to school them at another facility. However, the change in plans were announced yesterday during the Ministry of Education's back-to-school church service at the Bayside New Testament Church in Portmore, where the new school year was consecrated.
The Cedar Grove Academy, upon completion, will be the first school to be built under the Ministry of Education's System Transformation Project, and is set to accommodate 1,200 students and 80 staff members. The ministry announced yesterday that the school would only be able to accommodate Grade Seven students at this time as construction was still underway.
Thwaites yesterday made an appeal for schools that were experiencing challenges in reopening to contact their regional offices and make a report.
"We are dealing with 1,100 public schools, and I expect that there will be others that, will have difficulties of one sort or another and we must be patient with each other and ensure that wherever possible, help is given. What is non-negotiable is that all of our children of the appropriate age must be sent off to school, and every effort must be made to get the process of education in the schools going," he said.
The minister also called on parents to send their children out to schools and to pay their auxiliary fees or make arrangements with school administrators to make these payments at a later date.
"My heart goes out to all those parents who are trying so hard and are struggling to send their children off well-equipped. I ask them to make sure that even though they have not been able to get all the supplies which they hope for, they send the children out to school anyway, giving them something nourishing to eat and ensure that they know which books have been provided by the ministry for each grade and for each class," he said.
Thwaites said the focus for his ministry this academic year would be improving early childhood education as well as literacy and numeracy at the primary level and the introduction of technology at the secondary level.
"At the early childhood level, a number of basic schools will be merged into Government-sponsored infant schools offering qualified teachers and a higher level of instruction," he said. "At the primary level, an entire range of literacy specialists are available, particularly to weaker schools, and the same is true for mathematics, and these are ready and must be requested by schools that need the help," added the minister.
Meanwhile, president of the National Parent Teacher Association of Jamaica Everton Hannam told the Observer that the transporting of children to school, the security of students and the increase in school fees, primarily at the upper-school level, continues to be major areas of concern for the association. He encouraged parents to join their respective PTA bodies so as to help effect changes in the schools.
"What we would really like to do is to encourage parents to continue to give of their best and to be prepared for the school year in more than one way, paying strict attention to the disciplinary code at each school, which has been laid down so we can prevent any hiccup in the system at the start of the new year," he said.