SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Education Minister Ronald Thwaites wants Jamaicans to lobby Government for additional money to support the welfare PATH (Programme of Advancement through Health and Education) in schools.
"We need the support of the whole community to go to Government and say... we need some additional money in the PATH programme in order to support the schools who support the children on PATH but who do not collect from them," Thwaites recently told a back-to-school awards ceremony in Myersville, South East St Elizabeth.
Thwaites' comment came as he sought to reaffirm Government policy that children on the PATH programme, which is aimed at the poorest in the Jamaican society, should not be expected to pay auxiliary fees at high schools.
"I wish to make it clear... that the students who are on PATH, or the students who are the wards of the state, are not required to pay auxiliary fees; they cannot, by definition, be asked to do that," Thwaites told parents, teachers, students, and guests during a Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) award winners' presentation ceremony at the Refuge Temple in Myersville.
Fifty GSAT high achievers from primary schools in South East St Elizabeth who begin high school today (Monday) were awarded $20,000 each to assist school expenses. The presentation was funded by the Constituency Development Fund assigned to Member of Parliament for South East St Elizabeth Richard Parchment.
Speaking to journalists prior to departing Myersville, Thwaites said school principals "must report the numbers" on the PATH programme to the Ministry of Education "and we are making efforts with the Ministry of Social Security to ensure that there is contribution to the school".
He said the Government was "seeking a budget for that, we have some resources and we have always helped but we recognise that the schools require and need the funds but you cannot ask families who by definition, being on PATH, are unable to meet their life expenses to pay significant auxiliary fees as a precondition for their children to be in school".
Thwaites noted that despite a recent 10 per cent increase to PATH for nutritional support in schools, the support for needy children is "extremely limited".
He congratulated "teachers in this country who have taken this small amount of money and mixed it with all kinds of other donations in order to multiply loaves and fishes and give the children something to eat".
He urged schools to avoid discriminating against children on the PATH programme and he also urged parents to "prioritise your expenditures and whatever it is you can contribute to the school although you are not obliged, make sure you try to".
According to the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), the government news agency, an additional $230 million has been allocated to the nutritional support initiative this academic year to benefit students under PATH.
The additional amount will provide for an increase in the daily allocation for students in infant schools from $40 to $46 and $56 to $62 for older students.
Meanwhile, 210,000 students are to benefit under the nutritional support programme this school year, including 4,000 children in infant schools. Additionally, $2.54 billion has been allocated for PATH nutrition support this academic year, the JIS said.
The JIS said steps were being taken to eliminate any form of stigma and discrimination against students under PATH such as were reported to have happened at some schools in the last academic year.
"They (school administrators) have to find a way, behind the scenes, to do their school accounting, but we can't have the children being put in a separate line or given a pink ticket while everyone else has a blue ticket. There are some best practices at some schools and we are going to try to encourage that across the system," Helen Robertson, director of the School Feeding Programme in the Ministry of Education, was reported as saying.