ROSE HALL, St James — Education Minister Fayval Williams says almost 100 public schools in need of urgent repairs have been identified so far.
“As we prepare for back-to-school, I know we face many challenges, infrastructure challenges among them. I am not happy with the conditions in many of our schools,” she said, while acknowledging the impact this is having on students, teachers and administrators.
“We are shoring up the team at the ministry to be able to better respond to the needs of the schools. We hope that very soon when [JTA president La Sonja Harrison] speaks again, instead of holding up one finger representing the number of building officers in a region, she will be able to hold up many fingers,” the minister added.
Williams was addressing the final day of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) 58th annual conference at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa in St James.
“All the regions would have already received $30 million allocated to each. They would have identified 97 schools for critical repairs. Thirty-five of the projects were tendered and another 34 have estimates prepared and another 13 to be completed for a total of $196 million,” stated Williams, who emphasised that the ministry has been responding, especially when taking into consideration what was done within the past school year.
However, she conceded that despite what has been already accomplished, “there are a thousand things to get done in our schools”.
The need for every school to have an administrative block is also top of the agenda.
“The objective of the ministry is [for every school] to have an administrative block, properly configured, especially in our largest schools, and outfitted for the benefit of our teachers and the administrators,” said Williams. “We have to move more aggressively to create proper working spaces for our teachers. There is no disagreement on that,” she added.
In relation to the textbook programme, Williams said $2 million has been spent on the purchasing of textbooks for students at the primary and secondary levels.
“I can report that, with regards to books, primary school procurements are completed and distribution to come in the first week of school. For our secondary schools, the books are already here in Jamaica. They will be out by the first week of school this year,” she said.
“This has not been done for high schools in a long time. And so principals, teachers, you will be seeing more books,” the minister added.
She told the conference that e-books piloted during the pandemic will continue to be rolled out in the new school year.
“All our students from grade seven to 11… will have their English 1, 2, 3 books and the CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) English book in electronic format. We have all the e-mail addresses for all our students. We will directly send the link to them so that they can access the books. And we will continue as we go forward to get more eBooks into the system so that all our students can have access to textbooks for their studies,” the minister stated.
And while e-books will remain, other tools used during the height of the pandemic will no longer be so heavily relied upon.
“Whereas in previous years there were concentrated efforts in the education system for remote learning, going forward the focus will be on capitalizing on gains made during ICT integration, shaping quality education teaching and learning in hybrid blended environments, supporting recovery in the education initiatives and sustaining psychosocial support for the teachers,” stated Williams.
The minister noted that more than 700 mentors have been trained and an association of mentors was launched earlier this year.