Teachers, students protest conditions at St. Winefride's school By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
September 4, 2002

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STUDENTS and teachers of St. Winefride's Secondary School abandoned classes yesterday in protest against poor physical conditions.
THE staff and students at St. Winefride's Secondary School in Garnett Street, Georgetown, yesterday abandoned classes in protest against the physical conditions under which they have to work.

According to the Headmistress, Ms. Avril Crawford, who is also the General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU), there are several physical problems which impede the proper functioning of the institution.

These, she said, include the poor state of the fence and windows, appalling toilet facilities, inadequate lighting, poor ventilation and overcrowding.

Crawford said the problems had not developed overnight. The situation has been existing for several years and pleadings to have the problems rectified have not borne any positive results, she said.

She said only as recently as the last August vacation she reminded the Ministry of Education, through a letter, about the existing deplorable conditions, but nothing has been done so far. She also said that an official of the ministry had promised to visit the school on Monday last, the first day of the new school year. However, the official did not visit as promised.

The Headmistress noted that among the most pressing problems is the condition of the fence, pointing out that it poses a serious security hazard because the school is located very near to the road and children can easily step through it and come into contact with vehicular traffic. They can also escape from school without being detected, which can pose several complicated problems.

The school, originally a primary, was converted into a secondary one in the year 2000 and was built to accommodate about 400 students. But it now has a population of more than 550 students, leading to severe overcrowding and discomfort, Crawford reported, adding that the discomfort is compounded because children of secondary school age are bigger in stature.

Asked how long the protest will continue, the Headmistress said for as long as it takes the ministry to give a positive response. She explained that as General Secretary of the GTU she cannot discourage teachers from accepting poor conditions while she herself is tolerating it.

The Headmistress said her staff are willing to work but the physical conditions are revolting and they are not a "hard bunch" of people. As long as there is definite assurance that the problems will be rectified, they will resume duty, she said.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Mr. Hydar Ally told the Chronicle that the ministry is aware of the condition of the school and bids are with the Tender Board for its rehabilitation.

He also explained that only yesterday he had a meeting with officials of the Ministry of Finance where emergency repairs to schools were discussed.

Ally also pointed out that the Building Inspector for schools was requested to visit St. Winefride's Secondary to see what emergency work could be done until the tender process is complete.

However, he could not confirm whether this was done.