Berbice private schools mostly unregulated by Daniel Da Costa
Stabroek News
April 5, 2004

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Over recent years countless private schools have mushroomed across the country without approval and regulation of their activities.

And while some of these schools set high standards, others operate in a haphazard fashion not having to satisfy any conditionalities or to adhere to any rules, regulations and/or standards. In Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) a number of private schools have been established but none has been granted recognition by the Ministry of Education. According to the senior ministry official, only two of them have applied for recognition.

The shocking news last week that former principal of the RVC Private School in New Amsterdam, Rohan Chandisingh had been accused of misappropriating $2 million in exam fees and his subsequent suicide, triggered an array of questions over the operations of these institutions. Stabroek News has been reliably informed that the RVC Private School had not been granted recognition by the ministry.

Teachers at the school told this newspaper that the school had been submitting School-Based Assessments (SBAs) from students sitting the CXC examinations. However, the ministry source said: "If the school has not been granted recognition it is impossible for it to submit SBAs since private candidates cannot submit SBAs." According to the official, students who attend these schools are entered as private candidates by the Heads who merely collect their fees and submit them to the Examinations Division.

A Department of Education source in New Amsterdam explained that in some cases late payments are made directly to CXC headquarters in Barbados. According to that source "it is possible that Chandisingh, a former CXC English examiner could have been submitting his students' SBAs directly to Barbados and not through the local Examinations Division. In some cases alternative programmes may be offered in private schools."

The ministry official however maintains: "There must be a system in place. The school should be recognised and the ministry would have to supervise the compilation of SBAs which should be submitted to the Examinations Division."

According to the source "the laws have to be amended to give the ministry the authority to inspect and/or close private schools if found to be in default of certain basic standards and requirements. There is absolutely nothing the ministry can do if an individual decides to open a school and refuses to apply for recognition. We cannot trespass on private school property since we have no right under the law to do so. There is no law which says that an individual who is desirous of opening a private school should seek permission from the ministry and be recognised before he/she begins to operate," he explained.

At the moment, there are no guidelines or requirements that such individuals have to meet prior to the opening of a private school. According to the source, "we are now in the process of revising the format for those who may choose to apply to open private schools."

The source further explained that Regional Education Officers have in their possession a list of assessment criteria that have to be met by those who choose to apply. However, this remains a voluntary option since there is no legal stipulation and very little incentive to seek recognition. "People see no tangible benefits to be derived from going through the process of seeking recognition in the absence of any laws and regulations," said one educator in the region. "They are already making a lot of money."

Several persons within the education sector have opined that there is need to reduce the private schools across the country and the accompanying exploitation. "Parents must also play their part by checking with the Department of Education in their regions to ascertain whether the private school they are considering to send their children is in fact recognised by the ministry," suggested one educator. "The issue surrounding the licensing of private schools must be resolved sooner rather than later to stop the 'open season', the exploitation and any re-occurrence of what happened at the RVC school."

Over the years there have been questions surrounding the performances of students attending private schools in the region and some of the CXC examination results that have been published by their heads. According to a ministry official, "we have no records of the performance of candidates who attend private schools at CXC examinations."

At least three past heads of private schools in the region have disappeared over the years with large sums of money paid to them by students for CXC examinations fees. According to one educator, "the ball is now in the hands of the policymakers and politicians to bring order to the existing disorder."