Do We Re­ally Value Ed­u­ca­tion?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Nel­cia Charle­magne

It was our own Sir Arthur Lewis who pro­posed that ‘the fun­da­men­tal cure for poverty is not money, but knowl­edge’. As a de­vel­op­ing na­tion, we un­der­stand the em­pha­sis placed on ed­u­ca­tion since it serves as a step­ping stone to de­vel­op­ment. It is a way of gain­ing new knowl­edge to fos­ter new ideas, and to cre­ate links in an ef­fort to move the coun­try for­ward. With this in mind, there is also the need for well equipped and prop­erly main­tained in­sti­tu­tions to fa­cil­i­tate learn­ing. Sadly, this is not al­ways the case, as most re­cently ob­served at the Sir Arthur Lewis Com­mu­nity Col­lege.

A 2016 report by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) iden­ti­fied ‘air qual­ity con­cerns of vary­ing de­grees’ which would pos­si­bly be harm­ful to the well­be­ing of stu­dents and staff at the Sir Arthur Lewis Com­mu­nity Col­lege. Ter­mites, el­e­vated tem­per­a­tures and hu­mid­ity lev­els and, of course, the mould were of im­me­di­ate con­cern to CARPHA. The mould spec­i­mens ex­ist­ing in many build­ings were known to cause res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions, si­nusi­tis, asthma and some forms of brain in­fec­tions, as well as rashes and skin in­fec­tions.

Prior to this, the build­ing hous­ing the Hos­pi­tal­ity Stud­ies divi­sion was con­demned due to fail­ure to up­keep its con­di­tion. Three wooden struc­tures were also de­mol­ished as they were un­fit to house any stu­dents. Fol­low­ing the CARPHA report, and al­ready taxed for space, SALCC is­sued an Au­gust 2016 press re­lease in­form­ing the public of the tem­po­rary re­lo­ca­tion of three di­vi­sions of the ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tion to the Ge­orge Charles Sec­ondary School in Cul de Sac. Ef­fec­tive the start of the 2016/2017 aca­demic year, the Divi­sion of Agri­cul­ture, Health Sciences and Teacher Ed­u­ca­tion would be housed in what came to be known as the ‘Good Lands Ex­ten­sion’.

What was seen as a tem­po­rary fix to rem­edy the myr­iad of is­sues at the SALCC Morne cam­pus was, in ac­tu­al­ity, an is­sue it­self. The di­vi­sions housed at the Ge­orge Charles Sec­ondary School took to the me­dia in Septem­ber 2016 to ex­press dis­ap­point with the con­di­tions in the new lo­ca­tion. The ab­sence of ef­fi­cient Wi-Fi, the dis­tance from the road, safety con­cerns and the lack of shut­tles were all listed as hin­drances to learn­ing.

One lec­turer dis­closed that shut­tle ser­vices to and from the Ge­orge Charles Sec­ondary School and the Morne cam­pus were pro­vided at first, but were then dis­con­tin­ued. Mem­bers of staff who taught across di­vi­sions were left to make their own way to each lo­ca­tion. In some in­stances, lec­tur­ers ar­ranged for stu­dents from the Agri­cul­tural depart­ment to at­tend classes at the Morne. This cre­ated yet an­other is­sue as it would cut into free time or lunch breaks.

Per an­other lec­turer at the Sir Arthur Lewis Com­mu­nity Col­lege, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion has failed to pro­vide them with any in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to re­pairs and mov­ing the af­fected di­vi­sions back to the Morne cam­pus.

Ef­forts to contact Chief Ed­u­ca­tion Of­fi­cer Mar­cus Ed­ward were un­suc­cess­ful this week, as he is cur­rently out on va­ca­tion un­til De­cem­ber 31. Deputy Chief Ed­u­ca­tion Of­fi­cer Ruf­fina Charles was also un­avail­able for com­ment. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to com­mu­ni­ca­tions per­son­nel from the Sir Arthur Lewis Com­mu­nity Col­lege, the Min­istry of In­fra­struc­ture vis­ited the school on Oc­to­ber 23 to as­sess the con­di­tion of the Vic­tor Archer build­ing. Nonethe­less, no as­sess­ments have been con­ducted on the Hunter J Fran­cois li­brary or the Le­ton Thomas build­ing which housed the Depart­ment of Teacher Ed­u­ca­tion and Ed­u­ca­tional Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The move back to the Morne Cam­pus, there­fore, is un­likely to take place within the cur­rent aca­demic year, or even the next. In an ef­fort to gen­er­ate rev­enue, ad­di­tional pro­grammes have been added, and tu­ition costs would serve as main­te­nance funds.

But SALCC has not been the only school af­fected by poor in­fra­struc­ture or en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, some of which still have not been ad­dressed. For years, two build­ings of the Choiseul Sec­ondary School re­mained in a de­plorable con­di­tion, and yet housed not just stu­dents, but science labs, bath­room fa­cil­i­ties and a re­source room. Al­though the prin­ci­pal was ‘not at lib­erty to dis­close’ ex­act de­tails, the de­mo­li­tion and re­con­struc­tion of these build­ings has be­gun, al­beit a few years late. Con­se­quently, the af­fected stu­dents at Choiseul have been housed in a tem­po­rary wooden struc­ture near the school.

The Mi­coud Sec­ondary School also has its fair share of struc­tural in­ad­e­qua­cies. Un­sound build­ings, leak­ing roofs, mould and ter­mite in­fes­ta­tions were all cat­a­lysts to protest ac­tion which took place ear­lier in the school year. Ac­cord­ing to Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Gale Rigob­ert, the bud­get ‘al­lo­ca­tion was woe­fully in­ad­e­quate’ as re­gards school ren­o­va­tion. In­deed, the prime min­is­ter’s bud­get speech for 2017/18 made men­tion of greater use of ICT and ‘[max­i­miz­ing] the use of re­sources de­ployed at our schools’; how­ever, no men­tion was made of ap­por­tion­ing funds to school up­keep.

This is not a new con­cern. As the ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter stated, these is­sues did not hap­pen over the course of one or two years. Fail­ure to main­tain and re­pair sim­ple is­sues wors­ened into the present state of many of our schools.

The Re­union RC Pri­mary School in Choiseul, too, is in dire need of re­pairs. Ex­posed steel, miss­ing lou­vres on win­dows and leak­ing roofs make for an un­suit­able learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

The is­sue at hand seems to be that not enough em­pha­sis is placed on the im­por­tance of sound school in­fra­struc­ture. Na­tional bud­get al­lo­ca­tions never match up to the hefty amounts needed to main­tain the 72 pri­mary schools and 26 sec­ondary schools on is­land. What does hap­pen, on the other hand, is an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of prob­lems over a num­ber of years, which even­tu­ally leads to the con­dem­na­tion of school build­ings.

It is im­per­a­tive that the min­istries of ed­u­ca­tion and in­fra­struc­ture learn from pre­vi­ous er­rors and re­al­ize how much it would save us as a coun­try, to deal with these struc­tural is­sues as they oc­cur.

The Re­union RC Pri­mary School in Choiseul is one of many lo­cal schools in dire need of re­pairs.

Now con­demned, the Le­ton Thomas build­ing pre­vi­ously housed the Depart­ment of Teacher Ed­u­ca­tion and Ed­u­ca­tional Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

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