No shortage of books or furniture in schools, counters Samuda

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Senior staff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, October 10, 2019

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MINISTER with portfolio responsibility for education Karl Samuda has taken Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) President Owen Speid to task over comments intimating that schools are critically short of furniture and textbooks.

“My erstwhile friend Owen Speid has issued a statement that I find very interesting: that he has visited a number of schools and found that there are shortages in furniture. It is my understanding — I have not confirmed categorically, but I was advised reliably — that the JTA president, in his effort to cover as much ground as possible and I suspect in his efforts to assist in improving the fiscal and other efficiencies of the Ministry of Education, requested that schools submit to him a list of their furniture requirement,” Samuda told journalists at yesterday's post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House in St Andrew.

The minister said, while nothing was wrong with the interest taken by the JTA president, his touting of the “wish list” submitted by the schools as indications of critical lack is disingenuous.

“I want to make a blanket statement that there should be no sense of anxiety with respect to the supply of books, both [at the] primary and secondary [levels]. There is no shortage of books for the first term. What everybody is inclined to do, when asked, 'What do you want', they will give you a wish list,” Samuda declared.

He said the ministry had no intention of “embarking on a programme to countenance, sanction or provide a wish list. We stick strictly to the requirements under the National Standards Curriculum programme and we provide the books appropriate,” he said, adding that as far as the books and the amounts supplied so far were concerned, the needs for the first term of the school year are covered.

Commenting further on the situation, acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education Dr Grace McLean told journalists that, “based on the monitoring of the system by education officers [the ministry has] no reported immediate shortage of books and furniture within the system”.

She said the ministry had no choice but to be proactive in the matter, and would have done a placement of orders from last year December in terms of the number of books required based on indications from the school administrators, given that the process for procurement takes more than six months, and contracts have to go for Cabinet approval before they go to the suppliers who distribute the books across the island.

“This year is also unique, because we have fully implemented the National Standards Curriculum and we are on a drive to ensure that we change out all the books within the system over a two-year period,” Dr McLean said, noting that once schools indicated the need for additional books, they were supplied.

As it relates to school furniture, she had this to say: “We do not have any students who are standing up, at this time, and receiving instruction. They are all seated on a chair around a desk …and the teaching/learning process continues. We, however, continue to monitor the situation; all feedback that we receive is treated seriously at the ministry, we do our investigations and we are ensuring we provide as much support as we possibly can.”

Dr McLean said some schools, for this year, were provided with funds in their regular grants to purchase their own furniture. She added that based on its audit, the ministry has so far delivered 11,058 pieces of student furniture with about 1,500 to be delivered within the course of this week, and the other 6,200 pieces to be delivered to the schools that have requested by the end of October.


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