Bells toll at pri­vate schools

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Na­dine Wil­son-Har­ris Staff Re­porter na­dine.wil­son@glean­erjm.com

JISA claims more than 300 closed in five years while oth­ers are floun­der­ing

WES­LEY BOYNES, pres­i­dent of the Ja­maica In­de­pen­dent Schools’ As­so­ci­a­tion (JISA), has es­ti­mated that more than 300 pri­vate schools across the is­land have been shut­tered in the last five years.

Ac­cord­ing to Boynes, many other pri­vate schools are on the verge of clos­ing as more and more par­ents switch their chil­dren to pub­lic schools.

The Gleaner first re­ported on the prob­lems fac­ing pri­vate schools in 2012 when six prepara­tory in­sti­tu­tions re­ported that they would not be open­ing their doors for the new school year and sev­eral oth­ers warned that they could also close be­cause of fi­nan­cial chal­lenges.

FI­NAN­CIAL CHAL­LENGES

Now Boynes says the pre­dicted clo­sures have in­ten­si­fied, based on a mass ex­o­dus of stu­dents from pri­vate schools, which he says is be­cause of the fi­nan­cial chal­lenges fac­ing par­ents.

“The trend still con­tin­ues and will do so if the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion does not im­prove. In some in­stances, some of our schools will have to con­sider strate­gic merg­ers or rein­vent­ing them­selves and their of­fer­ings to the pub­lic,” said Boynes.

“As al­ways, the eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment will ul­ti­mately de­cide how things do work out as it per­tains Dr Wes­ley Boynes, pres­i­dent of the Ja­maica In­de­pen­dent Schools’ As­so­ci­a­tion, has es­ti­mated that more than 300 pri­vate schools across the is­land have been shut­tered in the last five years.

to the spend­ing power of par­ents who in­ter­face with pri­vate schools based on their abil­ity to pay up the school fees,” Boynes told The Sun­day Gleaner.

He ar­gued the per­cep­tion that only rich peo­ple send their chil­dren to pri­vate schools still per­sists, de­spite the fact that most pri­vate schools in Ja­maica do not charge the full cost to cover the ex­penses as­so­ci­ated with run­ning their in­sti­tu­tions.

Prin­ci­pal and founder of Hast­ings Academy, Joyce Hast­ings, said her school pop­u­la­tion has seen a 40 per cent I Bru­malia High School I Lin­stead Learn­ing Cen­tre I St He­len’s Prep I Bethel McKain Source: In­de­pen­dent Schools’ Unit, Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion

re­duc­tion this year, de­spite keep­ing its tu­ition at a min­i­mum and em­bark­ing on an ad­ver­tise­ment cam­paign to re­cruit stu­dents.

The 12-year-old Claren­don­based in­sti­tu­tion caters to stu­dents from ages three to 18, but Hast­ings said the prepara­tory and kinder­garten schools have been the most af­fected. At the high-school level, most of the stu­dents who have been reg­is­tered are spe­cial-needs chil­dren.

“Par­ents have been search­ing for free ed­u­ca­tion, so it has been af­fect­ing us badly,” said Hast­ings.

In the mean­time, Boynes In this 2009 file photo, stu­dents, un­der the watch­ful eye of their teacher, were busy at the pri­vate St Cecelia Prep School in St An­drew, which closed its doors two years later.

ar­gued that the pri­vate sec­tor and the Govern­ment need to work to­wards find­ing ways to sup­port the pri­vate schools.

He said the JISA in­tends to en­ter into dis­cus­sions with the Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, Youth and In­for­ma­tion Ruel Reid to dis­cuss the Govern­ment’s pol­icy as it re­lates to the fund­ing of stu­dents placed by the Govern­ment at pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions.

In 2014, the ed­u­ca­tion min­istry made a de­ci­sion to stop plac­ing GSAT stu­dents at pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions as it was cost­ing as much as $15 mil­lion an­nu­ally.

“This at­tempted pol­icy will never be able to be fully put into place, and if it is in­deed fully im­ple­mented, then it will be noth­ing less than a wicked and cruel act. We re­ally need to stop pre­tend­ing as if the pub­lic-ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor can reach to a state or level

where there is no need for pri­vate schools,” lamented Boynes.

“I hon­estly believe that such a pol­icy is driven by pol­i­tics and an ill-ad­vised re­sponse to the IMF (In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund) re­quire­ments on Ja­maica. We can­not al­low the chil­dren of the na­tion to suf­fer be­cause of such is­sues,” said Boynes.

TEACH­ING JOBS OVER­SEAS

Given the re­duc­tion in stu­dents, some ad­min­is­tra­tors of pri­vate schools are strug­gling to pay salaries, and this has re­sulted in some teach­ers ac­cept­ing more lu­cra­tive of­fers over­seas. Th­ese teach­ers are from both prepara­tory and high schools.

“Many teach­ers have taken up jobs over­seas, and the dis­con­cert­ing part of the process is that most of them waited un­til the first week of school, after col­lect­ing their Au­gust salaries, to in­form prin­ci­pals that they are not re­turn­ing. At this point in time, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of schools are cur­rently look­ing around to re­place teach­ers who have de­cided to leave,” said Boynes.

The JISA pres­i­dent said that while he is not against teach­ers fur­ther­ing their ca­reers or seek­ing av­enues to max­imise their earn­ings, the man­ner in which some leave is some­thing that needs to be ad­dressed.

“Maybe this is just wish­ful think­ing on my part but I re­ally believe that there should be some kind of law or pol­icy in place at a na­tional level which re­quires teach­ers to give at least a term’s no­tice be­fore leav­ing, and the Ja­maican Govern­ment should have the op­tion to block the hir­ing of such per­sons to for­eign na­tions if the proper pro­ce­dures are not hon­oured.

“Pri­vate schools are re­quired by law to give a term no­tice if they are clos­ing down. The same prin­ci­ple should ap­ply to teach­ers who are leav­ing for other em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties,” said Boynes.

“As a small na­tion, we have to find a way of man­ag­ing our hu­man re­sources in a way that will meet our na­tional in­ter­ests, oth­er­wise we will con­tinue to lose our best per­sons at what I con­sider an alarm­ing rate to the big­ger na­tions around us,” added Boynes.

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