Opposition offers alternative to Gov’ts STEAM schools programme
KINGSTON, Jamaica – The Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has offered an alternative to the Government’s stated position of building six science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) schools.
Particularly, the government has stated that it will be building one visual and performing arts school alongside the STEAM schools as part of the education transformation programme.
A total of $159 million has been budgeted for the programme this year and $4.2 billion over the next three years to construct the facilities, to increase student access to “quality secondary school places”.
The PNP is opposed to this approach.
“We do not support that approach,” said the party’s spokesman on finance, Julian Robinson on Thursday as he made his contribution to the 2023/24 Budget Debate.
“We believe that all secondary schools should be equipped to provide a robust STEAM programme with different schools offering different skills, depending on teacher resources, with the expectation that overtime schools may expand their offerings as they attract new teaching skills,” Robinson outlined.
He argued that the government’s approach of half-a-dozen STEAM schools will guarantee that only a limited number of students will get access to this quality education.
“Instead of reinforcing inequity in education, we need immediate, tactical action in the short term, and strategic action over the medium to long term,” he said.
He has suggested the government considers the following:
1. Embed STEM preparation in primary education and integrate it across the entire secondary system. The New Standards Curriculum provides an effective basis for preparing students with skills which will enable them to embark on a path of innovation at the secondary level and build on those innovative competencies at the post-secondary and tertiary levels.
2. Facilitate increased access to tertiary education as Jamaica’s rate of tertiary participation is a mere 27 per cent. This is low compared to CARICOM neighbours Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago at 65 per cent. Globally, the countries with the highest levels of GDP per capita income and innovation have tertiary participation of 70 per cent and 90 per cent.
Robinson has also suggested that the government considers removing the requirement for all students to require a guarantor to acquire a student’s loan. Currently, only students on the PATH programme are exempt.
However, Robinson argued that for many students, “that (the requirement for a guarantor) is the main impediment to accessing funding”.
And Robinson said the government should invest more in early childhood development.
“Support for this sector requires that providers be sensitised and trained and that the focus be on providing resources to improve spaces for play and interaction,” said Robinson.
“Early childhood development is about enabling two – six-year-olds to build friendships, learn to solve conflicts, develop respect for authority, learn to respect self and others, develop a spirit of community, and strengthen brain and bones,” Robinson added.