Maintenance of schools

Stabroek News
October 18, 1999

The start of the new academic year last month triggered off a series of events which made it clear that the Education Ministry has to do more to ensure that schools or substitute facilities are available and in good condition for the resumption of classes.

Just days before the new term, education ministry officials and parents were running helter-skelter to accommodate St Margaret's students at three separate locations while its new school is constructed. One of these substitute buildings was in such disrepair that after a Stabroek News report an extra week had to be spent to shore it up before it could safely house the primary school pupils. Originally some of the pupils were to be kept at St Gabriel's Primary but its parent/teacher body had apparently not been consulted and they lodged an objection and nixed the plan.

On the first day of school, pupils of St Angela's had an enforced holiday when they were displaced from the site they had occupied for a number of years.

Later in the week, the Bygeval school on the East Coast of Demerara was forced to run classes on a shift system because of a months-old problem with its toilets.

Earlier this month, the PTA of the Golden Grove Primary School took the extraordinary step of barricading the school after a teacher fell through a rotten floor board and fractured her hip. After an examination of the structure it was decided that the students would be better off at other locations until an entirely new building was erected.

On the heels of this move, parents of the Leeds Primary School shuttered the institution after a child fell through a rotting floor board and fractured an arm.

The latter two cases where injuries were sustained by a teacher and a student are quite serious and the ministry must take steps to ensure that the school buildings under its purview are safe for use.

The action by the PTAs of the two schools in closing them down bespeaks no doubt of great concern for the safety of teachers and children and perhaps severe frustration at the inaction and sloth that characterises the lumbering bureaucracy. The unilateral shutting down of the schools by the PTAs while not desirable may signal a new militancy on the part of long-suffering parents and teachers to prod the ministry into action when incidents of this type occur.

The ministry and PTAs - or perhaps Neighbourhood Democratic Councils - can forge a very useful partnership in overseeing the state of schools and making certain that trouble spots are identified and remedial action taken.

While many of these problems surfaced after the long August holidays they crop up ever so often during the school term and should be looked after with dispatch by the ministry.

Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Earl Boatswain told Stabroek News last week that visits are not paid to schools prior to their reopening to inspect facilities and ensure that they are in order. A recommendation has, however, been made for this.

This recommendation is a capital one and as a matter of fact, the ministry should institutionalise this arrangement and the PTAs of schools and heads should work in tandem to identify serious faults and have them repaired immediately. An inspectorate specifically to check on the safety of buildings year-round and to maintain them should be established with inputs from the various schools and their PTAs.

Funding for these repairs will always be an issue but relief agencies such as SIMAP have emergency response mechanisms intended for projects of this sort. Money has already been earmarked under education projects for schools in dire need of repairs and reconstruction, perhaps some of these funds can also be channelled towards these emergency works.

While spanking new school buildings continue to be commissioned and laudatory remarks are made about the burgeoning infrastructural stock, day-to-day care must be taken of the structures already in existence and the safety of those who use them.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples