Wait, minister!

SCHOOL administrators want the Government to hold off on the planned implementation of the Sixth Form Pathways Programme until all areas of concern have been addressed.

According to Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) President La Sonja Harrison, issues of limited space, inadequate funding for the programme, lack of resources and elements of how the programme will be rolled out are some of the concerns that have been raised among principals

“The Government have their own agenda and thrust and so they are saying, we are running with it, and [this demonstrates] the lack of professional courtesy that is extended to us as the administrators, the practitioners on the ground, the people on whom you depend to execute any plan of action that you have,” Harrison stressed.

The Sixth Form Pathways is part of the ministry’s implementation of a seven-year high school programme which allows students who complete grade 11 to enrol in the programme and pursue a two-year course of study with alternative opportunities alongside the traditional sixth-form curriculum.

Harrison, who was speaking at the Jamaica Observer Press Club last Thursday, insisted that while the JTA is not opposed to the programme, there needed to have been proper dialogue with principals.

“The principals are not averse, because all of us are concerned about our children and what happens to them in this period and…in terms of their trainability, employability when it is that they exit high school — that is a national concern to us, and so we really want to be able to determine how best they transition, but we have to take all the other variables into play as we craft something to go forward,” she said.

Harrison explained that the ministry is championing a programme that will have three pathways. Students will have the option of the traditional sixth form route; others will go the technical vocational route; and another cohort will have the opportunity to repeat subjects, she said.

She stressed that while the concept of the Sixth Form Pathways Programme is not a bad one, there was no discussion about how principals are going to accommodate it within schools. Instead, the ministry is “just making a national policy directive”.

The JTA president pointed out that under the programme, high schools are being asked to retain two cohorts of children in many schools that are already overcrowded and plagued by inadequate resources.

“One of the things that they [the ministry] will say to you, is that they have worked out partnerships with community colleges and teachers’ colleges to absorb some of the overflow, but that grey area isn’t even fully worked out and so you have the plan and you don’t talk with the principals as to how that plan is going to be rolled out,” she said.

She queried in this instance who will really be in charge of these students, as they will be housed at these facilities but they are really under the school from which they are coming, “so the principal now becomes administrator for multiple campuses.”

The JTA president also pondered what schools that didn’t offer a comprehensive sixth form programme before will now do in the pathways programme.

“Just accessing the human resource – just a body to teach the children is a challenge in and of itself, because most high schools today, it’s really your regular staff that does sixth form….and many principals stretch their staff like that because of the human resource [constraints],” she said.

Harrison also stressed that the money that will be given to schools to execute the programme — $17,000, which is the same subvention amount given to secondary schools each year for each child — will be woefully inadequate, noting that the funding is not comparable with “any school offering a sixth form programme worth salt.”

She pointed out that when the sum is broken down, this is a mere $89 per child daily.

The Sixth Form Pathways Programme has the ambition of helping students to acquire the skills, competences and certification they need for higher education and/or the workplace.

— Alecia Smith

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