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School Enrolment Drops

Image of Minister for Education, Dr. Gale Rigobert

MINISTER for Education, Dr. Gale Rigobert, says there has been a remarkable drop in the number of students in schools.

That was her response when this reporter asked her how she plans to deal with the issue of dwindling school numbers as shown in the Education Digest and based on the article entitled “The Universal Secondary Education Conundrum”, published in The VOICE recently.

Image of Minister for Education, Dr. Gale Rigobert
Minister for Education, Dr. Gale Rigobert

Highlighting the drastic annual fall of student enrolment numbers, she stated that: “In some instances, we have enrolment dropping from 300-350 to a little over 100.”

In pointing out schools in which the enrolment drops are that severe, she asked rhetorically: “Good sense would suggest that where that is the case, do you continue to operate the plant as if it had that full cohort of 300-plus students?”

She immediately followed this up with yet another rhetorical question: “Where schools happen to be in close proximity to one another, do you plough already limited resources into maintaining an efficient operation in both or do you — where feasible — ensure that they can marry resources so that it can enhance the product offering and give our students the best opportunity for an education experience that is enjoyable, that is fun but also seeks to develop their divinely given skills and talents?”

Answering her own question, Dr. Rigobert stated that even though “for many people, it is a difficult political decision”, “for me it is an economic necessity, one; and two, it is in keeping with our thrust to provide a safe and child friendly learning environment.”

Expanding on her point about the economic necessity to marry resources where declining student enrolment numbers are concerned, the Education Minister asked rhetorically once more: “Even as we speak of ailing schools in terms of deteriorating physical infrastructure, does it not make better sense to identify areas in which we can realise savings and or ensure that monies spent are best spent and can have the kind of impact we anticipate?”

She then earmarked school mergers, where necessary, as the way forward in dealing with the current enrolment reality.

“In that regard, we continue to engage stakeholders in areas…where mergers are possible; given perhaps, one, declining student enrolment; two, aging infrastructure that would require a massive injection of finance to bring the infrastructural condition of the school up to par; and three, with respect to exposing students to a wider variety of subjects. So all of these considerations have led us to embark upon a process of engagement and consultation with a view to where possible, initiating mergers.”

Regarding the potential impact this student enrolment decline may have on the teaching profession, and the possibility of teachers being sent home, Dr. Rigobert dismissed such talk as “misinformation”.

She pointed to the merging of the John Odlum and George Charles secondary schools as an example of how the Ministry of Education plans to continue to deal with the student decline.

“Naturally, (the Ministry of Education) would have taken all of these into consideration and that is why, as the example of John Odlum and George Charles would show, the outcome was really the result of much engagement; and I must emphasize… (that) the parents, teachers and students were all engaged in designing the uniform, (and) determining what subjects would be on offer. It was really coming out of the people.”

She said that engagement and consultation will be key to dealing with the anxiety and doubt that come with changes like the need for school mergers in the light of dwindling school enrolments.

“That is why when I asked my team to engage the stakeholders I insisted: engage, engage, engage. Consult, consult, consult. Because we recognise that with any experience of change, naturally there’ll be some anxiety. (There’ll be) some doubt, some trepidation; but the truth is (with) this process of consultation and engagement, you can correct and cure some of those anxieties and put to rest the misinformation in circulation,” the Education Minister explained.

She continued: “The safety of our kids remains a priority. The need to provide a safe, child-friendly environment remains a priority. We all saw need to ensure that our students receive an education which is fit for purpose in the 21st century. Our teachers are given an opportunity to give the best of themselves. So all of these considerations together would lead us to provide the best solution to the problems that we know beset the education sector.”

When was asked why there has been an annual increase in monies spent on education, through successive administrations, in the face of the drastic drop in school enrolments, she stated that: “I cannot speak for what my predecessors would have done, but this Minister recognises that with a drop in enrolment and with the increase in cost in school maintenance and the need to provide an adequate education experience for our kids, that there are some tough decisions that are to be made and must be made and we are prepared to make those decisions.”

The Student Digest does show that in the academic year 2006/2007, when there were 14,578 students enrolled at secondary schools across the island, $39.3 million was spent on education. Ten years later, the education expenditure for the 2016/2017 academic year, where only 11,794 students were enrolled, was $68 million, almost double the 2006/2007 expenditure, when there were more students enrolled.

Dean Nestor is from Choiseul but from young adulthood, his years were spent in Castries. He studied at St. Mary’s College from 1999 to 2004 and later pursued a college education in English Literature, History and Sociology at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College from 2004 to 2006.

After graduating from Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, he began working as a teacher from 2009 until 2016...Read full bio...

 

7 Comments

  1. Is she trolling us with the chrome dome ? I just can’t believe they couldn’t find a woman with hair to be min of ed. So weird. So freakish.

  2. I am puzzled. Merging because the enrollment is low…. okay….so what is in the pipeline for schools (primary) where the class sizes exceed 25 and the human and physical resources of based at ‘plants’ are stretched?

    1. Which is the case in schools such as Carmen Renee, where it is commonplace for parents from rural areas to send their children there, causing the enrollment numbers to exceed school capacity.

      Creating and enforcing primary school zones will help with that a bit but it will only delay the inevitable.

      The reality is there are less students writing Common Entrance today, than there were students in the 90’s who passed that exam. The real problem is our dwindling live birth numbers.

  3. Mr Nestor, Neat timely explanation.
    Hon Gail , the Ministry of Education needs a dedicated independent think tank whose members will work pro bono but compensated for any published white paper adopted by the ministry
    One potential and effective conversion of any declassified campus is to an adult vocation / craft/trade skills training center.
    Said conversions will offer a huge magnet of proactive choices for youth adults requiring all levels of training /retooling for both the local and export job markets.
    There is going to be a huge need for the eventual rebuilding of large swaths of the Middle East (generic Arabic language can be embedded in these adult programs (there are free apps online for learning languages)
    These schools can become the launching pads to international jobs -if they can align to the fundamental rigors of crafts /trades certification to work in the global village.

    @mr Coco
    You do no understand Darling Gail? Lets say she is more like the halls of the Palace of Versailles :
    She can be Xena in the House of Assembly yet be Sheba at a formal Tea Party in Coventry Gardens
    She can be take no prisoners like Golda Meir or one of the Fashionista professional ladies giggling over their bargain hunting in Piccadilly Circus.
    She can be a bold wearer of a leather wardrobe designed and worn in Milan or a bright seductive femme fatale lounging in a hammock at the most expensive resorts from Cancun to Punta Cana
    If she had worn an off white straw fedora or Panama hat with that innocent white outfit, then you would have felt an urging if not a surge in you hormonal matrix- enough so that you would dream of whisking her away to a palm fronted resort in Tahiti 🙂
    Nevertheless, I sense your displaced angst has more to do with the reality of her being ON THE WRONG SIDE of the Political divide 🙁
    Too bad…..indeed!

  4. I think the fundamental question to be asked is why is there a decline in School enrollment and do we accept it or do we find out the root causes of that decline. This should be of grave concern to all St Lucians. Have our children and their parents given up on securing an education . We need to examine the alternatives that children would turn to instead of education, which could manifest itself in the form of Juvenile Delinquency, gang activity, drug use, social dislocation, violence, sexual assault and a host of undesirable behaviors. Reducing school space is not the solution. The social inequality that exists because of the lack of resources evenly distributed among communities must be addressed. The socioeconomic factors that have led to truancy, poverty and severe social dislocation must be remedied. We must save our children because they are the single most important resource we have. Issue that relate to children such as domestic violence, sexual assault against women must be remedied through the criminal justice system. Dwindling school attendance could have a negative effect on the criminal justice system because when kids experience depression, poverty, shame, anger ,sadness , fear, anxiety, homelessness, they turn to alternative behaviors detrimental to themselves and the public at large,

  5. @Phantom Mandrake

    Thanks for reading the article and taking the time to comment. I agree with your premise for increase in vocational skills but I don’t think one centre will help remedy the issues of education here.

    All of our schools, including the comprehensive ones, heavily focus on academia, which in recent times, has unfortunately substituted in for the word ‘education’ We have bogged down learning to ‘reading’, ‘writing’ and ‘arithmetic’, which not everyone is going to be proficient in, far less be excellent in.

    Not everyone can be a ‘scholar’ which is where the word ‘school’ comes from. So I agree that there needs to be an increased focus on trades; but rather than a centre, it should be done via the master and apprentice route.

  6. @Cuthbert Hall Bsc, Msc.

    Thank you for reading the article and taking the time to comment.
    You are right when you say that the fundamental question to be asked is why is there a decline in school enrolment. Hopefully I’ll have the time to address this very important question in more detail soon. But essentially (and we can’t get away from this reality), the reason school numbers are in decline is because the occupants are in decline.

    We have decided in St. Lucia to have fewer children far later because we have bought the fear mongering message that more children means more poverty. However, what we are seeing is that due to our declining population, our economic potential will suffer as a result, just like our education sector is suffering now, from a lack of numbers.

    This decline has nothing to do with delinquency; the numbers show that attendance rates in every school is above 90%.

    It’s also a misconception that education solves the crime question. Crime rates in St. Lucia were far lower when school attendance rates were far lower. Today, when school attendance rates are in the 90th percentile, our crime rates are higher than ever.

    Schools have effectively spread bad influence and culture, more effectively than education and if you visit any school (particularly any secondary school) on the island, you will see that reality first hand.

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