Friendship Secondary closed over deplorable conditions By Nigel Williams
Stabroek News
May 4, 2002

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The Ministry of Education has ordered the immediate closure and suspension of classes at Friendship Secondary, East Bank Demerara, following protest action by teachers who are demanding a cleaner and safer working environment.

The school was out of operation from yesterday but students had still reported for classes saying that they were not told of the closure. Some of the teachers, who had protested the deplorable state of school, also indicated that they too were not informed of the closure.

Stabroek News spoke to the Headmistress and she said that a representative from the Education Ministry had visited the school on Thursday and ordered its immediate closure. She could not say what arrangements would be put in place for the students, but a meeting was scheduled yesterday afternoon for the teachers to decide on which school/s they would like to be seconded to.

Stabroek News understands that no immediate repairs would be done on the school but authorities of the ministry would take urgent steps to remedy the situation. Teachers at the school had made several formal complaints to the District Education Office and the Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) administration about marabuntas (wasps) and bats along with the deplorable state of the school's infrastructure but no action had been taken.

When Stabroek News visited the school yesterday some 20 teachers, who represented 80 percent of the teaching staff had gathered outside the school's compound beneath a vendor's stall protesting, while some of the students were playing in the schoolyard. Others remained in the classrooms chatting with schoolmates.

Stabroek News observed the school's compound yesterday. It has several ditches filled with water. More than two-thirds of it is covered with thick weeds and grass about four feet high. The drains around the school are all concrete and structurally in a good state but they were heavily silted up. The drains discharge into earthen drains which are choked with tall weeds and grass preventing the free flow of water. Further, refuse was seen littered all over the compound and under the stairways. Water supply at the school is poor. Previously, the school used to receive water through standpipes but now the pipes are all missing or disconnected.

In addition, the two main school buildings showed signs of disrepair and neglect. Visible to this newspaper were the many broken glass windowpanes, missing windows and doors, defective loose hanging doors and loose and rotten floor boards. There were huge holes in the ceiling, defective gutters and drainage pipes, broken rails to stairways and stained walls and ceilings. In the auditorium the eastern portion was propped up with the roof hanging precariously.

There is also no proper sewage disposal system in place. The toilet bowls in the male and female toilets were all filled with waste. There were stained, clogged pipes, defective tanks, stained sinks, missing taps and blocked effluent drains. Moreover, in the administrative building whenever the toilets were flushed the waste overflowed onto the lower flat. Yesterday Stabroek News observed the floating excreta on the floor and the broken top of tank, so exposed that rats and other vermin got stuck inside giving off an unpleasant odour.

The school has no proper lighting. Missing fluorescent lamps and tubes and damaged electrical wires left exposed were visible throughout the building. Most of the students' furniture was broken. Insects and others pests ran about the classrooms. Huge marabunta nests could be seen on ceilings and many of the students complained about being bitten by them. Some classrooms' floors had bat dung and the walls were plastered with insects' waste.

The teachers had written a letter to Environmental Health Officer of the Caledonia/Good Success Neighbourhood Democratic Council, Edward Niles, informing him of the situation at the school. According to one of the teachers the officer later paid a visit to the school and upon inspection he recommended that all school sessions be suspended until the public health defects enumerated were satisfactorily corrected. Letters were sent to the following: Secretary, Central Board of Health, Ministry of Health; Regional Chairman, Region Four, Allan Munroe; Regional Vice Chairman, L. Sammy; Regional Executive Officer, Region Four; Regional Health Officer; Regional Education Officer, Region Four; Regional Environmental Officer and Headmistress of the school.

Meanwhile, speaking to Stabroek News yesterday Leslyn Collins, head of the Home Economics Department, said that she started to work at the school some seven years ago and since she got there the condition of the school had worsened. According to her teachers who were there before her had also complained of the situation. She said that in 1997 the school had a facelift but since then nothing was done and even though they had made several complaints no one paid them any heed. She said on April 23 they had given the Ministry of Education a seven-day ultimatum. "The ultimatum ended last Tuesday and they didn't do anything so we decided to stay out of the classes on Thursday."

The school has a population of 640 students with some 20 classrooms. It has nine departments but three of its main ones- Agriculture, Home Economics and Industrial Arts are severely affected. The Home Economics department has only one gas stove, no beds, no furniture and the head of department indicated that many times the students were made to take along items from their homes to help in the completion of the syllabus.

The Agriculture teacher said that she was given one textbook to teach with and because there are no tools in the school her students couldn't do any practical lessons. She said she was forced to organise a fund raising activity in her school and eventually purchased a few cutlasses.

The Industrial Arts teacher said that his class had been disturbed several times whenever someone visited the toilet and flushed it. Another teacher lamented that her feet had once slipped through the school floor and she was bitten recently by a marabunta. Collins told this newspaper that since 2000 the school had not entered children to write CXC examinations and for two years now some students were left in fourth form. Asked why the school did not write the examinations the teacher couldn't say, and her headmistress was unwilling to speak to this newspaper.

Those who remained in fourth form range in age from 16-18. They were worried about their education yesterday. "Right now, the teachers are not teaching and they close down the school, I don't know what will happen to us," a student said.

According to Collins, the possibility existed that the students may not write CXC again this year given the many setbacks.

The closest secondary schools are at Covent Garden and Soesdyke.