A-m-u-s-i-n-g-s A Letter to Gale – Part 4

AMUSINGSHi, as I was saying: Teachers come first. Put differently, wouldn’t you prefer to have a pilot who was competent, happy, and had faith in the plane and crew that was carrying you across the ocean, or would you settle for a pilot who was dissatisfied with the airplane, didn’t care about the state of the equipment and just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible? No brainer, right? I suppose that essentially it is a matter of equality. Schools should not be judged on how clean or comfortable they are; all schools should be clean, safe, comfortable and functional. I doubt that any one of our schools could be thus described, certainly not clean and hygienic; the closest, I suppose, is Dame Pearlette, but even there the staffroom is a dark, hot, badly ventilated, untidy mess. (Oh, yes – teachers need to be tidy too)

Playgrounds are important for leisure activities and as places where at least a minimum of physical exercise can be practiced. Many schools lack even the pretense of having space for gymnastics or other sporting activities. Please don’t get me wrong; most of the infrastructural failings of our school buildings are historic – some schools have not changed since I first arrived in St Lucia in the early 1970’s, and I don’t just mean the big things. Gutters are seldom ever maintained so rainwater is rarely if ever collected securely or regularly. Toilets, generally, are pretty filthy; even staff toilets are grimy and there are few facilities to help maintain hygiene. There is scarcely shelter when it rains, nowhere to hang wet clothing, and nowhere to keep bags neatly or safely. Pupils and staff should have lockers.

Security around schools is abysmal, even though it is a shame that we need security. When our In Time Project, supplied all infant and primary schools with computers – yes, we were the first – we also had to provide burglar bars and locks for doors. Speaking of security isn’t it time we opened our schools to evening classes for adults or late teens, which would help justify the cost of upgrading facilities. Actually, In Time also ended up supplying desks, tables and chairs for computer rooms in many schools, so poorly were they equipped. The educational ‘plant’ is a rotting, stinking mess that is an insult to the teachers and students that have to work there. What we need is a billion dollar program for the regeneration of our educational facilities. Sometimes it pays off to ask for something really big!

When Tom was still around doing his best to help St Lucia, we were busy putting together a proposal called Taiweiroc (Taiwan World Education Initiative, ROC) that would ultimately focus on all levels of education, from Pre-school to Tertiary Levels. Initially, our concern was Pre-school and K – 6, the formative years when the foundation for success in life is laid. From a marketing standpoint, this is a fertile age group, which, though having no purchasing power of its own, is strongly supported by older groups; everyone wants a child to succeed as demonstrated by the international success of such programs as “Head Start” and “No Child Left Behind”. We anticipated that domestic and foreign corporations and NGOs, recognizing the true value of this initiative, would sponsor and support us.

One of the things we hoped to do was to provide pre-fabricated teaching units with fittings and equipment, washrooms, kitchens, air conditioning, computers, television, etc. in every constituency, thus standardizing costs. The units were to be “Made in Taiwan” but erected by St. Lucians. We hoped that the ‘St. Lucian Model’ would be used throughout the territories that enjoy diplomatic relations with Taiwan. As usual, we were thinking big! It was a great idea, but once the UWP had carelessly let the reins of power slip back into Dr. Anthony’s grasp nothing happened. Anything to do with Tom Chou & Co – myself included – was anathema to the ‘Great Helmsman’. Instead of capitalizing on the solid foundation of cooperation between our two countries, he chose to spend a year trying to court favor with Mainland China while insulting our most reliable benefactor. It might take years to rebuild the trust he squandered for reasons no one but he understood if indeed he understood at all. The whole world knew that China and Taiwan had reached an accommodation that neither would encroach on the other’s diplomatic territories; they were too busy building their own new mutual relationships. As so often prejudice clouded the ‘Great Helmsman’s’ vision. The Great Helmsman by the way is the name of a 2007 play by American playwright David Henry Wang that features two women who are debating who will be chosen for a night with Chairman Mao Zedong. Oh yes, Dear Minister, our own great helmsman was vain enough to believe that Taiwanese and Chinese beauties would vie for a night of pleasure with him.

I believe that the time is ripe, despite the fact that purse strings are tight, for St. Lucia to seek assistance for a long-term programme of educational reformation through the revitalization of schools throughout the island, but I guess that’s enough for today.

Love, Michael.

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