THE GLEANER: Since 2000, a number of changes have been implemented to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the education system as the country prepares its citizens to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Significant to this process was the Bruce Golding-led administration's piloting in 2011 of a forward-thinking bill in Parliament titled The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (Constitutional Amendment) Act 2011.
Particular attention should be paid to Section 13 (3k) (ii) of the bill, which establishes and recognises "the right of every child who is a citizen of Jamaica to benefit from publicly funded tuition in a public educational institution at the pre-primary and primary levels".
It is a well-known fact that a country that caters to the needs of its children by ensuring that they get the best possible start in life and have access to quality basic education will be a country to reckon with. Education is a human right and a key factor to reducing poverty. Therefore, it is the duty of the Government to expand and improve access to quality education for ALL children.
Incumbent Education Minister Ruel Reid, at a press conference held at his ministry office on May 1, 2017, indicated his commitment to this stance when he stated that "after undertaking consultation and revision of the MoEYI policy for 2017-2018, the philosophy is that public education should be properly funded by Government, while encouraging stakeholders to make voluntary contribution". This viewpoint is in support of the same position taken by one of his predecessors and now prime minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness.
I am very proud of the fact that not only have we enacted critical legislation to protect the rights of children, but that the Government is also taking the steps necessary for actualisation by funding and putting resources into the system to ensure that this fundamental right is provided for as outlined in Section 13 (3k) (ii).
For years, primary schools have been underfunded. Previously, a total of $920 per capita was allocated for the school year. However, under the new arrangement, this amount will be increased to $2,500 per capita for the year, and all-age schools will see an increase from $11,000 per capita to the same as secondary schools, which is $19,000 per capita for the year. This is a laudable move by the minister.
Commendable as well is that approximately $1.761 billion has been allocated for the PATH feeding grant. This new allocation of funds will result in PATH students receiving meals for five days instead of the three or four days that was the norm previously.
Last week, I was privileged to be part of a meeting with some educators. After the meeting, one of the attendees felt compelled to ask, "Weh unno get so much money from to do so much?" Better yet, after the meeting, I received numerous calls from primary-school principals stating that the new arrangement would allow them to do much more for their institutions and would help them to avoid indebtedness for the start of the upcoming school year.
It is obvious that the priority of this Government is "education for all", and wherever the resources will come from, they will be obtained. Expanding the ministry's focus from early childhood and secondary to now include strengthening and offering more support at the primary level is another step in the right direction. It shows commitment to equipping the country's human resources with the skills necessary to create a knowledge-based society that is fully productive and more conducive for our families to live work and raise families.
Frankly, it costs us too much - socially, economically, and financially - when we fail to invest in education. Kudos to the Government for displaying the vision and the willpower to "spend a little early to save a lot later".
CAPTION: Robert D. Miller is senior adviser to Minister of Education, Youth and Information