By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
KINGSTON, Jamaica — With help from the government of Japan, by means of a grant of US$500,000 (JA$63 million) to be administered by the Inter-American Development Bank, Jamaica is moving one step closer to ending the now outdated school shift-system.
The grant will go towards buildout of five of 17 new schools, in order to remove 40 from the shift system.
Speaking at the launch of the support for sustainability of the education sector transformation plan, in New Kingston on May 15, education, youth and information minister, Senator Ruel Reid, said that a proposal in furtherance of the buildout of the schools is before the Public Investment Management Secretariat (PIMSEC).
An institution of the ministry of finance and the public service, PIMSEC was established to manage and administer all government projects in Jamaica, regardless of the source of funding, the type of procurement or implementation method used.
Currently, there are over 40 schools still using the shift-system. Last year there were 25 schools taken off the shift system during the 2015/16 academic year, including six primary, two all-age, 11 primary and junior high, and six high schools.
Introduced in the 1970s with the aim of increasing the number of school spaces and reducing class size, according to the Education Act (1980), the number of instructional hours per school day as stipulated by the regulations should be no less than four-and-a-half hours at the primary, all-age and secondary schools on a shift system, and five hours for whole-day schools. ‘Instructional hours’ refer to the hours that a teacher and students are present together imparting and receiving educational instruction respectively.
Overcrowding in the Jamaican school system is still a major issue facing school administrators.
The Savanna-la-Mar Primary School, for example, was reportedly built to accommodate only 750 students. However, according to reports from the administrator, the institution currently has 1,400 students on roll last year.
Schools such as St James High are trying to mitigate overcrowding by cutting back on intake numbers according to the principal, Joseph Williams.
Williams said to the Jamaica Gleaner last year: “We used to get up to 600 students per year, some 400 from GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test), and the rest from GNAT (Grade Nine Achievement Test), and those seeking transfer to the school, but we don’t have the space for GNAT again. We take less than 400 students from GSAT up to last year, and then those seeking transfer here, we try and help out some…”
The grant facility, gifted on behalf of the Japanese government under the administration of the IDB, is seen as a welcome plus for Jamaica.
Reid endorsed the technical cooperation grant, noting that there needs to be continuity and, by extension, sustainability in the plans for the education sector.
In remarks announcing this new development, Japanese ambassador to Jamaica, Hiromasa Yamazaki, noted that investing in education at all levels is important to the overall development of the country and its people.
Yamazaki said that, over the past decades, Japan has been supporting Jamaica in the area of education under the Grant Assistance of Grassroots Human Security Project, through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).