SOME 75 young persons have been placed in schools as clerical and administrative workers under the controversial Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) and others are currently being trained by the HEART Trust/NTA, Minister of Education Rev Ronald Thwaites disclosed last week.
"They are helping with data entry and administrative tasks, and more are being trained now", Thwaites told the Jamaica Observer.
The education minister hopes that next academic year the programme will be expanded to include teacher assistants in classrooms.
"My dream is that they would go beyond those (administrative) functions and actually assist teachers in overcrowded classrooms. I think realistically that is going to be for the next academic year", he said.
In February government announced that 5,000 persons would receive short-term employment under the programme to be funded from a number of existing sources including the National Housing Trust, the PetroCaribe Initiative, the Tourism Enhancement Fund and the ministries of Youth and Culture; Agriculture; Education; and Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change.
Last month the National Youth Service (NYS) said it would employ about 1,000 persons aged 17 to 24 -- made up mostly of student teachers and high school graduates -- to work in schools under JEEP.
Contractor General Greg Christie has questioned the integrity of JEEP and has raided its secretariat at the Ministry of Transport and Works. Efforts Friday to contact JEEP project manager Lucille Brodber through the transport ministry for an update regarding the raid were unsuccessful.
Thwaites was, however, optimistic the JEEP workers would impact positively on the schools.
"We're anxious to see if we can find the resources to include more bright, committed but unemployed students who can have this kind of apprenticeship in the education system," he said.
Selection of the workers in done through HEART/NTA with the criteria including "educational achievements and very importantly, the character disposition of the students".
Meanwhile, president of the Jamaica Teachers Association Paul Adams has welcomed the placement of the JEEP workers in schools, but said the programme was similar to those which employed under persons through HEART and the NYS.
Declaring that he became interested in the teaching profession after serving as an NYS trainee in the 1970s, Adams said the JEEP workers could benefit the education system.
"We would be grateful if more persons could be placed in the schools, whether it is by JEEP, Benz or bicycle", Adams quipped.
"In the school system we do not have enough support staff for teachers. A school that was built for 350 students now has 1500 with the same ancillary and admin staff. You hardly have anyone to assist with the printing of material, supporting the bursar with clerical duties; there are no lab technicians or lab assistants. In the past, NYS and HEART persons were trained and placed in areas of greatest need", he said.
"I was an assistant teacher in youth service (NYS), and it gave me a chance to be engaged in the art of teaching, caused me to love it and to be trained in it", Adams recalled.
The JTA president emphasised the importance of programmes to assist unemployed youth with training and jobs.
"It is important for school leavers to be engaged in some kind of productive activity, if they are not going on to further education. They must be involved in work, no matter the money, because if you miss out two, three years without work or education, you start to diminish as a human being of value", he told the Observer.