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Thwaites says ministry must approve all textbooks

Gov’t increases subsidy for early childhood institutions

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, May 08, 2014    

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SCHOOLS which make up their own list of books for parents to purchase for their children at the start of the new school year could find themselves in trouble if the practice continues.

"No booklists are to be issued by schools unless approved by the ministry," Education Minister Ronald Thwaites told the House of Representatives yesterday, as he made his contribution to the 2014/15 sectoral debate.

Thwaites said that, for the first time, the Ministry of Education has reviewed all booklists from the schools and will be approving the list of books for schools to give parents to purchase at the different grades. Parents, he added, should not be spending more than an average of $5,000 on supplementary texts at the primary level, and no more than $12,000 at grades seven to nine at the secondary level.

He added that the Ministry of Education has appealed to principals, in recognition of the economics of the time, to ask parents to buy only books that are absolutely necessary. "I invite Members of Parliament to ensure this happens, when you are providing your back-to-school support," said the minister.

In his presentation, which focused on "student achievement", the education minister noted that this year the ministry has allocated more than $900 million to government's textbook programme.

"Without any detriment to our students, the textbook cycle has been adjusted to save over $88 million from the current textbook budget, to be redirected to other important areas," he said. He also noted that the cycle for books scheduled for three years has been extended to five years; and those books on the five-year cycle must last for seven years.

"We have to take better care of what costs so much. So parents you must insist that your children make good use of the books and take care of them," the minister said.

Minister Thwaites also announced a 15 per cent increase in the monthly subsidy given by his ministry to early childhood institutions, to support the wages paid by these schools to teachers. He said that following upon the increase this year, the Government hopes to increase the subsidy again next year. "We want our best teachers and practitioners to stay in the early childhood system," the minister said.

According to Thwaites, it is now within the ministry's grasp to finally have one trained teacher available, at least on a part-time basis, to each early childhood institution. To achieve this, he said, the ministry proposes to have early childhood trained teachers assigned from their primary school to coach pre-trained teachers in other schools which are without a pre-trained teacher.

By announcing the 15 per cent increase in the subsidy, Thwaites was fulfilling a commitment he made to Leader of the Opposition Andrew Holness during the Standing Finance Committee's review of the 2014/15 Estimates of Expenditure last month, to address the issue of the emoluments earned by basic school teachers.

Holness said then that he was "begging, imploring and beseeching" Thwaites to address the issue of the basic school teachers pay, having listened to the complaints of, at least, one such teacher.

Thwaites said that there was a commonality of interest between Government and Opposition in terms of improving the working conditions of the early childhood educators. "A promise was made, and a promise will be kept," he assured the Opposition.

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