Walker and Ministry must work together!

InTime project coordinator Michael Walker

Two major computer programs which could revolutionize education here and benefit our children seem to be in jeopardy. One is an ITC project funded by the EU and the InTime project conceptualized by benefactor Michael Walker.
Last week after appearing on DBS’ TALK with Rick Wayne, hosted in his absence Nicole Mc Donald, Walker may have landed in hot water with the Ministry of Education. According to him, efforts to get the program going, was not being met with the cooperation of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education. Walker said the project which started under the previous administration was embraced by the Prime Minister after failing to get through the doors of the Ministry of Education at first. But what was even more shocking during his appearance on TALK and subsequent articles in last weekend’s STAR, was that the Ministry of Education was sitting on an EU grant of US$17 million for another ITC project for schools since 2009, a project which is yet to be implemented.
Following those statements, Minister of Education Arsene James referred to Walker as being “malicious” during the DBS Evening News. He also claimed that the said money had to be applied for. However the STAR has been reliably informed that the money was ready for disbursement in tranches since 2009, pending implementation of the project in phases.
Strangely at the same launch, the Minister for Education expressed gratitude to Michael Walker for conceiving the idea. “As someone said there have been stumbling blocks, but we are hoping that finally the program will be launched in every school,” James said then. So why now is Michael Walker being called “malicious” for mentioning stumbling blocks and the EU funds? And why has the acting education officer sent out a letter curtailling the training for the program?
The message by the acting education officer Marcus Edward advised that all persons seeking to provide training to professional staff including teachers and principals must first obtain the approval of the Chief Education Officer.
Walker subsequently wrote to all involved stating; “…in my last email, I invited each school to send one representative who felt that he or she “had a text book” to write. I offered to give advice, training and guidance during 5 workshops . . . Sadly, this is not possible. Despite the permission granted in 2009 for the inception of the InTime project, the CEO has demanded that I seek permission to hold workshops in future. Without the workshops, the InTime project would lose one of its main components. You have all the computers, TVs, etc. but not the methodology to integrate them into your teaching.”
On Monday the CEO wrote all Primary School Principals and teachers reminding them that attending workshops had to be done in accordance to guidelines enshrined in the Education Act. “The Education Act of Saint Lucia (Section 7 (d) states clearly that the Chief Education Officer shall develop and direct training of all professional personnel. We therefore advise all persons seeking to provide any training to professional staff including teachers and principals that they MUST first obtain the approval of the Chief Education Officer.  Once approved, the Ministry of Education will formally notify persons selected for training,” the letter read in part.
Walker says however he was under the impression that permission had already been granted for his workshops. In his response he notes: “Obviously, if the Ministry refuses to give permission to any teacher to attend our workshops, or even forbids them to do so, then the room will be empty. We will therefore, in order to save teachers and principals the embarrassment of having to choose between the InTime Project and the Ministry’s stated opposition to it, inform all teachers that the project is suspended.”
On Tuesday the STAR spoke with the Education Officer for Region 2, Julian Delauney, who had this to say on the matter: “The InTime project is a commendable one in the efforts in trying to uplift the schools. When you tell me computers will be provided, a special room will be allocated, a teacher will be trained, you cannot ask for more. I support it one hundred percent and I believe the Ministry supports it one hundred percent. My concern and what baffles me somewhat is that I think there is need for that kind of togetherness between the InTime personnel, be it Mr Walker and the Ministry of Education in making sure that everything is synchronized. In terms of permission for teachers to be out of school it is the Ministry from what I know who has to give permission according to the ACT, so it is important that those persons meet for the benefit of the education system and put away little differences so that at the end the children will benefit.”
Ethelene Leonce, President of the Primary School’s Principal Association and Principal of the Dame Pearlette Louisy Primary School also weighs in on the situation. “I would really like to see this matter resolved amicably,” she says. She described Michael Walker as someone who is passionate about Saint Lucia and education. “And I am saying that if someone is offering to us something that we all can benefit from we should find the best way to access it and if we cannot do that then we should have a reason why we cannot.”
But explaining may be easier said than done for the Ministry of Education, which still is yet to explain why their ITC project has taken two years to get off the ground and whether the EU funds will indeed be lost if not absorbed over the next twelve months. The clock is ticking, while the future of our children’s education continues to be at risk.

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