Bunting wants easier way for schools to get resources

Bunting wants easier way for schools to get resources

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, August 17, 2020

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Opposition spokesman on education and training Peter Bunting has said that the allocation of resources for schools would be more effective if the processes are decentralised from the Ministry of Education (MoE).  

Bunting described the ministry as a “hopelessly over-centralised bureaucracy”, pointing to the 2019 Auditor General’s Report which spoke to some schools having an excess of textbooks sent to them by the MoE which they did not utilise, while other schools had low or no supply of these same textbooks.

The report on procurement management in the ministry said the ministry was deficient monitoring the distribution of textbooks and school furniture to schools, which prevented it from reducing waste, and maximising greater value from expenditures, and caused a build-up of unused items.Bunting was speaking at a recent webinar hosted by the education ministry.

“This thing would work much better if we evolve the budgeting process to the school level. The school boards and principals would get their entire allocation, nothing would be centralised at the parent ministry or at the regional level, but the financial and human resources to an extent should be pushed down to the lowest level at which the task can be competently carried out,” Bunting said.

He argued that, for example, over the past four years the ministry had “bundled” the acquisition of tablets for students.“If that budget had been sent directly to the schools with the specifications for the tablets it would never have taken four-and-a-half years”, he said.

The Opposition spokesman said had the tablets in schools programme been efficiently managed schools could have already adopted a complete learning integration management system, and some institutions could have become models for best practice in adopting technology for learning.

In her remarks at the session, where parents expressed lingering worry about all the issues surrounding the fast-approaching September 7 reopening of schools, Chief Education Officer Dr Kasan Troupe informed that 190,000 tablets will be issued to students for the entire 2020/21 academic year.

She stressed that even with the blended teaching and learning modality there will be no heavy dependency on the Internet and virtual learning.

“There is no over-reliance on the Internet. The ministry of education has never communicated [that there will be] a virtual school. We have said we will have a mixed modality. There is no country at this time that will have an over-reliance on the Internet, it will not work. We still have challenges locally with the build-out of the infrastructure, so we have to plan with that in mind,” she stated.

But Opposition spokesman on technology, Julian Robinson is adamant that many students will be left out in the cold. His estimate is that between primary and secondary schools some 300,000-400,000 students need tablets/devices.

“Come September when schools resume, a portion of the time is going to be online. When people don’t have tablets or access to a computer they won’t be able to access their education…the numbers [of tablets] seem to vary – the minister of education gives one number, the CEO gives another number, the minister of science gives another number… what we know is that not one tablet has been delivered to a child. Now let’s see what happens in September,” he said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

Last Tuesday, Education Minister Karl Samuda told Robinson in Parliament that “a tablet cannot be distributed where it is not needed right now, when our children are not in school. They will be distributed when the children arrive in school”. 

Technology Minister Fayval Williams further advised the House that 40,000 tablets are in the island for distribution beginning at the end of August.Robinson said he was renewing his proposal for the removal of general consumption tax (GCT) on tablets, given that Government will not be able to provide for all students, which means a number of parents will have to purchase devices for their children.

“Removing the GCT on a temporary basis would provide parents with an opportunity to buy the instruments at a more affordable cost,” he said. The Observer was unable to ascertain from the education ministry the exact number of students who are in need of tablets to support virtual learning.

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