Colin Steer | Funding policy targets training, social ills
The Gleaner's editorial of Friday, January 11, 2019, would perhaps have done readers a better public service if the writer had attempted, ahead of the analysis presented, to get a fuller understanding of the funding policy for students up to age 18 as outlined by Senator Ruel Reid, the education minister, in Montego Bay two days earlier.
Against the background of a recognised deficit in the skills level of graduating students entering the labour market, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has implemented a number of programmes to boost the level of training programmes available and to help underwrite the costs as necessary. This is also seen as imperative to tackling some of the social dysfunctions that result from young people leaving schools and being unable to fit into available jobs because of the lack of requisite skills.
Under its K-13 strategy, the ministry has undertaken to provide funding for students at the secondary level to complete seven years of schooling and to exit with an associate degree. This is being made possible through:
A. FULL ESTABLISHMENT OF SEVEN-YEAR HIGH SCHOOLS
As of September 2018, the ministry moved to provide seven years of schooling at the secondary level. This is being made possible through the full implementation of the Career Advancement Programme (CAP) in all secondary schools with expanded capacity in community colleges, teachers' colleges, universities, and other private institutions.
The ministry will also provide greater support to the traditional sixth-form programmes that currently operate in some schools. Through the CAP, a total of 20,000 more students will be enrolled at the grade 12 and 13 levels. At the grade 12 and 13 levels, students will pursue an associate degree, which will allow them to have a head-start in moving towards their bachelor's degree.
B. ASSOCIATE DEGREES
Effective September 2018, the grades 12 and 13 programmes have been so structured as to allow students to leave school with an associate degree. These degrees will include the CAPE, City & Guilds Engineering, as well as the occupational associate degrees that are available in 16 subject areas. This means that each student will exit grade 13 with an associate degree, and, therefore, can now move into the tertiary sector to do two additional years to complete their full degree programmes.
Under the Joint Committee for Tertiary Education (JCTE), the College Credit Programme on High Schools Campuses is being implemented. This is to build capacity and partnerships within the secondary schools as the students prepare to move on to the tertiary institutions. The associate degree provides an added opportunity for students to leave the secondary system with a recognised and marketable qualification.
There are approximately 40,000 students who complete the secondary level each year. Currently, through CAP and the traditional sixth-form programme, approximately close to 35,000 students are able to access a space in the 201 institutions that offer the two additional years at the secondary level.
Programmes being offered include those in CSEC, CAPE, NVQJ, and City & Guilds. These are in the sectors that are in demand, including logistics, engineering, hospitality, and global shared services.
More than $1.5 billion is available for funding the additional two years at secondary. It is expected that over the next three-year period, through partnership, the entire cohort of 40,000 will be guaranteed a space and support for the completion of the programmes. Funding includes payment of course fees, provision of resources, as well as payment of examination fees.
C. THE NATIONAL SCHOOL LEAVING CERTIFICATE
The National School Leaving Certificate (NSLC) is intended to give schools the means for documenting the growth and development of learners' personal qualities over the duration of their years in high school. It will be complementary to all exit examinations, and the two of these together will offer employers a more balanced picture of the qualities graduates possess when they leave secondary school at the end of Grade 13.
The NSLC will be awarded after students have completed seven years at secondary school. This will qualify students to move into tertiary institutions or into the world of work. An added benefit is that students entering the tertiary system to pursue degrees may be able to access exemptions through credits that will be obtained at the grade 13 level once they complete an associate degree and will only need two additional years to complete their bachelor's degree.
The NSLC will now become the general exit certification for students leaving the secondary level. No longer will the students rely only on the minimum requirement of five subjects to leave the secondary level. While exit examinations will still be done, the documented grades and behavioural information captured on the certificate and rated based on standards will provide the students with the qualification to move to the next level.
The NSLC will become the national minimum standard at the grade 13 level. Students will be encouraged to complete various professional certification (stackable credentials) leading to an associate degree. This will allow for greater access into the world of work and tertiary institutions.
All students will be encouraged to complete seven years at the secondary level. For those who may need to exit after five years, their level of attainment will be assessed, and a transcript at any level of the secondary system will be provided. The National Certificate at the grade 13 level will be the minimum standard to exit the secondary level. It must be noted that students will continue to be encouraged to perform. The qualification they attain, however, should be dependent on the pathway they are pursuing.
All tertiary-level students will be encouraged to utilise the National Qualification Framework (NQF) to determine equivalencies for students to move into their tertiary institutions. The NQF will also be critical for use by employers to determine the level at which students can be employed as they enter the world of work. This is being piloted in 20 schools for full implementation in the next school year.
We note, too, the references to tuition and auxiliary fee policy. Notwithstanding the repeated claims in The Gleaner's editorial columns, a proper analysis of the change in policy by the ministry would reveal that the vast majority of schools are better funded and have been operating more efficiently than under the previous arrangements, which saw students being penalised for their parents' inability to pay the fees demanded by schools.
There is nothing in the Government's policy that precludes more parents from making voluntary financial contributions to the operations of their children's schools if requested.