A Let­ter to Gale – Part 4

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of these ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker Love, Michael.

Hi, as I was say­ing: Teach­ers come first. Put dif­fer­ently, wouldn't you pre­fer to have a pilot who was com­pe­tent, happy, and had faith in the plane and crew that was car­ry­ing you across the ocean, or would you set­tle for a pilot who was dis­sat­is­fied with the air­plane, didn't care about the state of the equip­ment and just wanted to get out of there as quickly as pos­si­ble? No brainer, right? I sup­pose that es­sen­tially it is a mat­ter of equality. Schools should not be judged on how clean or com­fort­able they are; all schools should be clean, safe, com­fort­able and func­tional. I doubt that any one of our schools could be thus de­scribed, cer­tainly not clean and hy­gienic; the clos­est, I sup­pose, is Dame Pear­lette, but even there the staffroom is a dark, hot, badly ven­ti­lated, un­tidy mess. (Oh, yes – teach­ers need to be tidy too)

Play­grounds are im­por­tant for leisure ac­tiv­i­ties and as places where at least a min­i­mum of phys­i­cal ex­er­cise can be prac­ticed. Many schools lack even the pre­tense of hav­ing space for gym­nas­tics or other sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Please don't get me wrong; most of the in­fras­truc­tural fail­ings of our school build­ings are his­toric – some schools have not changed since I first ar­rived in St Lu­cia in the early 1970's, and I don't just mean the big things. Gut­ters are sel­dom ever main­tained so rain­wa­ter is rarely, if ever col­lected se­curely or reg­u­larly. Toi­lets, gen­er­ally, are pretty filthy; even staff toi­lets are grimy and there are few fa­cil­i­ties to help main­tain hy­giene. There is scarcely shel­ter when it rains, nowhere to hang wet clothing, and nowhere to keep bags neatly or safely. Pupils and staff should have lock­ers.

Se­cu­rity around schools is abysmal, even though it is a shame that we need se­cu­rity. When our In Time Pro­ject, sup­plied all in­fant and pri­mary schools with com­put­ers – yes, we were the first – we also had to pro­vide bur­glar bars and locks for doors. Speak­ing of se­cu­rity isn't it time we opened our schools to evening classes for adults or late teens, which would help jus­tify the cost of up­grad­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Ac­tu­ally, In Time also ended up sup­ply­ing desks, ta­bles and chairs for com­puter rooms in many schools, so poorly were they equipped. The ed­u­ca­tional ‘plant' is a rot­ting, stink­ing mess that is an in­sult to the teach­ers and stu­dents that have to work there. What we need is a bil­lion dol­lar pro­gram for the re­gen­er­a­tion of our ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties. Some­times it pays off to ask for some­thing re­ally big!

When Tom was still around do­ing his best to help St Lu­cia, we were busy putting to­gether a pro­posal called Tai­weiroc (Tai­wan World Ed­u­ca­tion Ini­tia­tive, ROC) that would ul­ti­mately fo­cus on all lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion, from Pre-school to Ter­tiary Lev­els. Ini­tially, our con­cern was Pre-school and K - 6, the for­ma­tive years when the foun­da­tion for suc­cess in life is laid. From a mar­ket­ing stand­point, this is a fer­tile age group, which, though hav­ing no pur­chas­ing power of its own, is strongly sup­ported by older groups; ev­ery­one wants a child to suc­ceed as demon­strated by the in­ter­na­tional suc­cess of such pro­grams as “Head Start” and “No Child Left Be­hind”. We an­tic­i­pated that do­mes­tic and for­eign cor­po­ra­tions and NGOs, rec­og­niz­ing the true value of this ini­tia­tive, would spon­sor and sup­port us.

One of the things we hoped to do was to pro­vide pre-fab­ri­cated teach­ing units with fit­tings and equip­ment, wash­rooms, kitchens, air con­di­tion­ing, com­put­ers, tele­vi­sion, etc. in ev­ery con­stituency, thus stan­dard­iz­ing costs. The units were to be “Made in Tai­wan” but erected by St. Lu­cians. We hoped that the ‘St. Lu­cian Model' would be used through­out the ter­ri­to­ries that en­joy diplo­matic re­la­tions with Tai­wan. As usual, we were think­ing big! It was a great idea, but once the UWP had care­lessly let the reins of power slip back into Dr. An­thony's grasp noth­ing hap­pened. Any­thing to do with Tom Chou & Co – my­self in­cluded – was anath­ema to the ‘Great Helms­man'. In­stead of cap­i­tal­iz­ing on the solid foun­da­tion of co­op­er­a­tion between our two coun­tries, he chose to spend a year try­ing to court fa­vor with Main­land China while in­sult­ing our most re­li­able bene­fac­tor. It might take years to re­build the trust he squan­dered for rea­sons no one but he un­der­stood if in­deed he un­der­stood at all. The whole world knew that China and Tai­wan had reached an ac­com­mo­da­tion that nei­ther would en­croach on the other's diplo­matic ter­ri­to­ries; they were too busy build­ing their own new mu­tual re­la­tion­ships. As so of­ten prej­u­dice clouded the ‘Great Helms­man's' vi­sion. The Great Helms­man by the way is the name of a 2007 play by Amer­i­can play­wright David Henry Wang that fea­tures two women who are de­bat­ing who will be cho­sen for a night with Chair­man Mao Ze­dong. Oh yes, Dear Min­is­ter, our own great helms­man was vain enough to be­lieve that Tai­wanese and Chi­nese beau­ties would vie for a night of plea­sure with him.

I be­lieve that the time is ripe, de­spite the fact that purse strings are tight, for St. Lu­cia to seek as­sis­tance for a long-term pro­gramme of ed­u­ca­tional ref­or­ma­tion through the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of schools through­out the is­land, but I guess that's enough for to­day.

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