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Minister concerned about unused school spaces

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites.

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites.

KINGSTON — Just over 79,000 unused spaces are available in the island’s public schools, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites revealed yesterday.

Thwaites provided the data during an early morning meeting with journalists at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston and suggested that the figures justify a serious examination of geographical zoning of schools.

According to the data, 1,334 free student spaces are available in 14 infant schools; 44,935 spaces exist in 412 primary schools; 11,626 spaces in 70 all-age schools; 13,982 in 69 primary and junior high schools; 6,007 in 29 secondary high schools; 973 in four technical high schools; and 283 in two agricultural high schools.

The minister also argued that based on the data – compiled from the annual schools census in October 2012 – there needs to be a serious discussion on the mechanism to be used to fill these underpopulated schools.

Last night, Jamaica Teachers’ Association President Clayton Hall said that while he could not verify the data, he was aware that there are schools with excess spaces, but that, he insisted, resulted from the education ministry’s policy of not placing students in the seven to nine departments of all-age and junior high schools.

“I am not sure if it would be feasible or even desirable to move students into these areas,” Hall told the Jamaica Observer. “Most of these areas are rural areas where the population shifts have rendered these schools almost obsolete.”

He said that while the spaces do exist, there are significant challenges in some areas. “For example, between Manchester and St. Catherine we are in desperate need for school spaces, especially at the secondary level.”

To make his point, Hall highlighted Spanish Town where he said seven high schools – Jose Marti, Innswood, Eltham, St. Jago, Jonathan Grant, Spanish Town, and St. Catherine – are all within close proximity. (Observer)

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