THIS government prides itself on the plans it has for the education of the Saint Lucian people, especially that of the children. In fact, at the start of this academic year (September 2018), it dedicated a whole issue of its magazine ‘Our Saint Lucia’ to education.
The magazine, which is a bi-monthly progress report from the Government of Saint Lucia, headlined on its cover page ‘The Power of Education’; and has as a sub headline: ‘The Ministry Focuses on Thinking Globally’ with a photo of Education Minister Gale Rigobert smiling down on a group of students with arms around a few of them.
With a stern warning to school administrators who in any way violate students under their care to stress the importance of early childhood education, to better equipping school security officers even down to the launch of the programme ‘#EducateSaintLucia’, the Government seems to have gone out on a limb to show how serious it is in delivering a sound education to every Saint Lucian citizen, regardless of his/her socio-economic status.
Minister Rigobert followed this up with a new school year message in which she pointed to the changes that need to take place within the education sector, “so that we can address the mismatch between that which we offer and that which the labour market requires.”
There is no doubt that the administration is serious about education. What is mind-boggling within this environment, however, is the constant stoppage of classes in one school or another, either at the commencement of a school term or midway in the term.
It must be noted that the government’s budgetary financial allocation for school repairs over the years was way below the needed amount and may have contributed to the continuous stoppage of classes for repairs to the school infrastructure. But that is not the sole reason for the suspension of classes due to repairs for whatever reason. Poor planning regarding the maintenance of schools on the island has a significant role to play in students being at home when they should be in their classrooms.
Government, this year, increased the allocation for school repair to $10 million up from $1 million. While this 100% injection is gratifying and will go a long way towards repairing more schools and at a quicker rate, one wonders whether this increased budget would guarantee school repairs not being conducted at the commencement of a school term or midway in that term?
No such guarantee has been given by Minister Rigobert.
It is one thing to speak highly of government’s intentions regarding the education of our students as is done in the magazine ‘Our Saint Lucia’. However, if such ideals remain only in the clouds and are not packaged in a way that is beneficial to our students, then all the talk will be of no use.
Why speak of wanting to do take the education of the Saint Lucians to a higher level when we can’t even get out schools ready in time for the same education we want to impart?
We now have students out of school, midway in the term, without them knowing when they will return to their classrooms. (Referring here to students of the Babonneau Secondary School now at home with ears glued to their radios which will tell them when to return to their classes…)
Mold infestation seems to have taken over the school. However, the Ministry is not saying so. Why are repairs being done to the school? What sort of repairs? Are the repairs a result of the mold teachers claimed is polluting the school and making them and students sick?
The VOICE in its Thursday issue asked what is behind the suspension of classes at the school. That question is still being asked today. Sadly, the Ministry of Education has yet to answer conclusively.
The Ministry this week issued two press releases, neither making any mention of a mold situation at the school.
Minister Rigobert skirted around the issue in an interview with the online news agency ‘St. Lucia Times’ Thursday, expressing grave concern about mold at the school, but avoiding that the repairs were under way as a resu7lt of the mold infestation.
The questions weighing on my mind are thus:
Are all those wonderful things outlined for education meant to be just talk?
Will the Ministry of Education, with its increased budget for school repairs, provide the country with a conclusive statement that speaks to the non-stoppage of classes for repairs either at the start of a school term or midway in the term?
Meanwhile, teachers at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College (SALCCF) reported sick on Thursday and Friday, leaving classrooms either empty or unattended.
Neither teachers nor administration have made any announcement, but for the last two school days this week, SALCC was like a ghost town.
So, what is it this time? Mold as well? Or some other reason bad enough to make all SALCC’s teachers sick?
If things continue as they are, we will take some time to actually know the facts – and probably after the fact!