A Let­ter to Gale Part 5

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

You're prob­a­bly get­ting a lit­tle tired of my letters, so I'll make this the last one un­less of course I come up with a new set of ideas. You might not be old enough to re­mem­ber but al­most two decades ago, when Di­da­cus tried to in­ject new ideas in the min­istry, there was a bit of an ed­u­ca­tional build­ing boom and quite a few new se­condary schools popped into ex­is­tence. Un­for­tu­nately for the na­tion, the ap­pear­ance of these schools did not co­in­cide with a boom in stu­dent num­bers and the build­ings have never re­ally lived up to their billed po­ten­tials.

I may be a bit out of touch, but Soufriere Se­condary did ap­pear to be a bit run down when I last vis­ited it. The grounds were un­kempt and the class­rooms were as un­tidy as any I have seen on the is­land. Ac­tu­ally, they were prob­a­bly no worse than any other class­rooms; it does not seem to be in the Lu­cian psy­che to care about their work­places. Kids spend their days in pigsty­like class­rooms, not car­ing a jot for or­der and tidi­ness, so it is lit­tle won­der that their minds never de­velop in a tidy fash­ion.

Marigot Se­condary lan­guished for years in un­der-pop­u­lated mis­ery; I'm not sure what the sit­u­a­tion is now. Grande Riviere Den­nery, beau­ti­fully sit­u­ated at the head of the Val­ley, be­came a de­pos­i­tory for kids that placed badly on the Com­mon En­trance Exam. It was al­most as if the au­thor­i­ties, that's your min­istry, had de­cided to clump all the pre­teen fail­ures into one sack and make sure they never had a chance to shine no mat­ter how well they per­formed even af­ter they had be­gun to de­velop. The ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that you head does not care one iota for well­doc­u­mented facts that chil­dren de­velop at dif­fer­ent speeds and in dif­fer­ent ways. Nope, it is man­dated that each and ev­ery child shall sit an asi­nine pre-teen test thus ce­ment­ing its path in life for­ever and a day.

Did I hear that Vieux Fort Tech­ni­cal had gone to an early death? The past twenty years have clearly left a trail of fis­cal, ed­u­ca­tional and re­source re­lated fail­ures. Grants, do­na­tions and char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tions have been squan­dered to the detri­ment of the school pop­u­la­tion in par­tic­u­lar and the Saint Lu­cian peo­ple as a whole. If some­how, mirac­u­lously, 18 mil­lion dol­lars were to be found on the min­istry's doorstep one fine morn­ing, six mil­lion would im­me­di­ately dis­ap­pear in ‘ad­min­is­tra­tive' costs, an­other six might sim­ply dis­ap­pear in some ‘un­ac­count­able fash­ion' while the re­main­ing six might just, but only just, trickle down through the sys­tem to ben­e­fit one or two favoured projects.

We need to make Saint Lu­cia's sys­tem of ed­u­ca­tion stand out as an ex­am­ple to our neigh­bours. Take spe­cial in­ter­ests, for ex­am­ple. In many coun­tries, schools spe­cial­ize in cater­ing for ex­cep­tion­ally gifted stu­dents who pos­sess unique tal­ents: the most ob­vi­ous area would be in sports, but there are many oth­ers. Grande Riviere Den­nery is ide­ally placed to be­come a cen­tre of ex­cel­lence in agri­cul­ture. Al­ready, some of our most ac­tive bene­fac­tors have as­sisted in set­ting up agri­cul­tural projects in the val­ley. It would not take too much ef­fort to cre­ate a school that not only pro­vided an all-round ed­u­ca­tion, but also en­cour­aged our bright­est, most tal­ented agri­cul­tur­al­ists to pur­sue ca­reers in the farm­ing sec­tors, and I am not just talk­ing about the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of farm­ing but also the fields of sci­en­tific re­search, eco­nomic plan­ning, en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity, etc. Agri­cul­ture holds so much prom­ise, but suc­cess does not grow with­out in­vest­ment. El­e­vate the school's sta­tus to a Col­lege of Agri­cul­ture and show the Caribbean how to har­ness and best har­vest the re­gion's nat­u­ral re­sources.

Any­one who has ever tried to get any­thing fixed or built in Saint Lu­cia will be well aware that our work­force is woe­fully lack­ing in skills. Con­vert Marigot, or any place else, into a Vo­ca­tional Col­lege where our fu­ture builders, ma­sons, car­pen­ters, plumbers can gain es­sen­tial skills and learn the lat­est tech­niques and explore state of the art tech­nol­ogy whilst re­ceiv­ing a solid foun­da­tion grounded in a good gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion.

In Soufriere, with its cap­tive com­mu­ni­ties all within a cozy dis­tance of each other, we could set up a real Teacher Train­ing Col­lege that would not only pro­vide gen­eral teach­ing cer­tifi­cates but would also pro­vide schools with in­struc­tors well qual­i­fied to ad­dress the needs of spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, vo­ca­tional train­ing, science and tech­nol­ogy, and per­haps even sports and gym­nas­tics. Talk­ing of which, we al­ready have our own heroes. Vieux Fort could host the na­tion's Sport­ing Acad­emy that would pro­duce ath­letes with ex­cel­lent aca­demic and sport­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

I could go on and on, you know I could, but the point is that the sta­tus quo is sim­ply not ac­cept­able. Bold mea­sures are needed. The new cen­tury is al­ready 16 per­cent gone. Re­mem­ber that For­tune Favours the Brave! Let's turn Saint Lu­cia into an ed­u­ca­tion pow­er­house to se­cure a bet­ter fu­ture for all.

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