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By Nadine Wilson-Harris

Photo by Lionel Rookwood
Rev. Donovan Reece—

The coalition between the Church and State to educate thousands of Jamaicans over the years is now under threat, due to a perception by some school administrators and religious leaders that the Government is trying to take over church-run schools.

The fear was voiced by representatives of the Ecumenical Education Committee during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last Tuesday.

Members of the committee are disheartened by what they deem a raft of insults and directives from the Ministry of Education which could undermine their contribution to the sector.

“These aggravations come so regularly,” said Paul Miller, who is the deputy director of schools for the United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

“Each time you see a note from the Ministry of Education, you are like, ‘Oh God, another one’,” Miller told a forum which was arranged to mark Peter Espeut’s 25 years as a Gleaner columnist.




Claims made by Education Minister Ruel Reid that administrators from a number of schools, including the church-operated St Andrew High and others, were trying to extort parents, and recent efforts to determine who the all-girls school appoints to its board, were just two of the actions referenced by Miller to support his view that the minister has gone too far.

The law dictates that a school nominates a board of director and the education minister appoints the members of this board. However, Miller said when the school attempted to change the composition of its board late last year, Reid initially refused to appoint two of the persons nominated.

“What happens to the idea of partnership is that it is fractured at that point when the church is being told that it cannot name who it wants to name,” charged Miller.

“Each time these things occur, it is a direct assault on the concept undergirding education,” he added.

Espeut, a school board chairman and member of the Ecumenical Education Committee, charged that the Government is seeking to “encroach on the rights of schools” because it is the main financier of the education sector.

He noted that historically, the churches have been the managers of the schools while the Government provided some funding.

“It seems that is about to change. The Government wishes to be the manager of the schools along the principle that he who pays the piper calls the tune, and I think the churches are up in arms over it,” said Espeut.

Retired permanent secretary in the education ministry and former president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, Errol Miller, pointed out that different administrations have always seemed bent on wresting the management of schools from their owners over the years.

Ruel Reid, Minister of Education

Ruel Reid, Minister of Education



“Because the system is decentralized, and there is decentralized management, the Ministry of Education, which has overall policy and funding responsibilities, always wants to take more of it.

“You can trace a lot of such efforts (including) the matter of creating regional boards or district boards or whatever. They have not been able to do it, because in the end, government resources always prove inadequate and it is the partnership that saves the system,” said Miller.

He noted that the churches were forced to pick up the slack in the past when the Government could not finance education.

According to Miller, the phasing out of the Negro Education Grant in 1846, for example, resulted in the closure of many schools that depended on it for survival.

He said schools operated by the Anglican Church were especially hard hit, while the Baptist schools fared better because they were not as dependent on the Government at the time.

“By default, the denominations were left holding the bag, but they kept the system going and so the lesson that we should learn here is that external assistance to education is fickle,” said Miller, who is also a former president of The Mico University.

“One of the lessons we have really learnt, if you look at our history carefully, is that partnership is the best option,” he said.

Chairman of the Ecumenical Education Committee, Archbishop Emeritus Donald Reece, said the members will continue to have dialogue with officials at Ministry of Education to discuss issues and foster collaborations.

“We will continue to stand our ground,” said Reece.


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