MINISTER for Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development, Dr. Gale Rigobert, has confirmed the allegations made by the administrator and staff of the Gros Islet Pre-School that the Ministry of Education has issued an evacuation notice to that educational facility.
The Minister confirmed this while answering the media’s questions in front of the Parliament Building on Tuesday before the commencement of the sitting of the House of Representatives.
Stating that the safety of children is a priority, she claimed that because of last year’s Independence Day fire that occurred at the school, the building has been deemed unsafe by experts.
“Last February, I think it was on Independence Day or around that time, we received news of a fire at the Gros Islet Pre-School. The work that was done by (the Ministry of ) Infrastructure and the fire service suggested to us in terms of the assessment that the building was (deemed) unsafe, and you may know that health and safety remains a priority for us, especially as it relates to the well-being of our young children. That is still the case, that the building is unsafe,” Dr.Rigobert explained.
However, the administrator of the preschool, Chanter Asambert, in an interview with The VOICE, said that the abovementioned assessment took place last year, the same day of the fire. Nobody else came to inspect the building, she said.
Earlier this month, in an interview with The VOICE, Gros Islet Pre-School teacher, Felicia Joseph, stated that the Ministry “said it’s not safe for the children, so we have to move.”
However, the teacher also confirmed that she was not in agreement with that assessment, stating that the Ministry had not come to visit the school since the fire took place nearly a year before. The main bone of contention with the assessment referenced by the Education Minister was that it had taken place last year and it is not up-to-date and accurate.
“I don’t agree with them because if (only they) came to see what’s happening, then they would know our situation, because we tried our best to fix it up (the burnt area) and make it healthy for the students and nobody has fallen sick. I don’t think it’s not safe for them,” Joseph said.
The Education Minister stated that the school proprietor has been contacted and a meeting of stakeholders will be held to iron out the teething issues..
“My Ministry has engaged the proprietor with the view to arriving at an amicable solution. In fact, I know that there is a meeting of stakeholders scheduled for either this week or early next week with a view to resolving the issue,” Dr.Rigobert said.
The meeting of stakeholders was confirmed by the Parliamentary Representative for Gros Islet, Lenard Montoute, who stated on Tuesday that: “I heard of the situation and as Parliamentary representative, I have approached the agency that is the authority responsible for the school — the Ministry of Education. I have requested a meeting with the Ministry of Education, the parents, the Administrator and myself.”
The Administrator of the Gros Islet Preschool also confirmed the meeting yesterday, stating that it was scheduled for today. “I just want (to know) at the end of the day that my children are safe.”
Montoute stated that he wanted to have the meeting to clear the air on the rumours surrounding him and to resolve this problem “once and for all”.
“I am aware…that there are quite a lot of rumours going around that implicate the Parliamentary Representative (of Gros Islet). I want to make it very clear that the preschool is not under my purview. It is run by the Ministry of Education and whatever the situation is, the Ministry of Education will be in a position to give us the answers and that we can resolve the situation once and for all,” Montoute said.
The rumours indicated above by the Parliamentary Representative were confirmed in the interview with the Gros Islet Preschool Administrator, who said of Montoute that “there are rumours that we can’t mention.”
When asked about the attempts made by the Administrator to actually reach out to him and contact him about the issue, Montoute on Tuesday responded: “I’ve not had any audience with the Administrator, nor do I know of any attempt on her part to meet me.”
He added: “I have a constituency office, I have a constituency date, people meet me at one o’clock in the morning. People approach me on a Friday night in Gros Islet, they approach me and I make myself available to them. I recognise that not everyone is able to make it during the…day. They work themselves, so whenever and wherever they leave work, I make myself available.”
To Montoute’s claim that he does not know of any attempt on her part to meet with him, Asambert told The VOICE yesterday: “That’s a lie.”
She said that she was not the only one who tried to contact Montoute about this issue but, “My teachers have tried, parents have tried to get in touch with him,” to no avail. She also said that the Mayor of Gros Islet called Montoute to try to have a meeting with him.
Asambert said that Montoute should have intervened earlier than he did.
“He should have intervened a long time ago. If something is happening in your constituency that is harmful, you step in,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dr.Rigobert, underscored the need to “regularise” the Early Childhood Education sector in order to ensure that there is uniformity in meeting standards set by the Bureau of Standards.
“It must be said…with respect to the Early Childhood Education sector, (that) we are working with our partner agencies to ensure that we can regularise that sector. That sector is fraught with problems and we need to ensure that what we do is in the best interest of our kids and that the standards that have been agreed by the Bureau of Standards be adhered to and implemented,” she said.
Expounding on her Ministry’s plans to ensure that all Early Childhood schools are in line with the Bureau’s standards, she said that: “We’ve invited all of the service providers in that sector to go through a re-registration process with the view to ensuring that we do things the right way.”
Dr. Rigobert also assured the public that: “This Minister of Education, this administration will not do anything to deny any student or group of students the opportunity to have an education, which we dub to be fit for purpose and suitable for the advancement and growth of our human resources in the 21st century.”