You’re probably getting a little tired of my letters, so I’ll make this the last one unless of course I come up with a new set of ideas. You might not be old enough to remember but almost two decades ago, when Didacus tried to inject new ideas in the ministry, there was a bit of an educational building boom and quite a few new secondary schools popped into existence. Unfortunately for the nation, the appearance of these schools did not coincide with a boom in student numbers and the buildings have never really lived up to their billed potentials.
I may be a bit out of touch, but Soufriere Secondary did appear to be a bit run down when I last visited it. The grounds were unkempt and the classrooms were as untidy as any I have seen on the island. Actually, they were probably no worse than any other classrooms; it does not seem to be in the Lucian psyche to care about their workplaces. Kids spend their days in pigsty-like classrooms, not caring a jot for order and tidiness, so it is little wonder that their minds never develop in a tidy fashion.
Marigot Secondary languished for years in under-populated misery; I’m not sure what the situation is now. Grande Riviere Dennery, beautifully situated at the head of the Valley, became a depository for kids that placed badly on the Common Entrance Exam. It was almost as if the authorities, that’s your ministry, had decided to clump all the pre-teen failures into one sack and make sure they never had a chance to shine no matter how well they performed even after they had begun to develop. The education system that you head does not care one iota for well-documented facts that children develop at different speeds and in different ways. Nope, it is mandated that each and every child shall sit an asinine pre-teen test thus cementing its path in life forever and a day.
Did I hear that Vieux Fort Technical had gone to an early death? The past twenty years have clearly left a trail of fiscal, educational and resource related failures. Grants, donations and charitable contributions have been squandered to the detriment of the school population in particular and the Saint Lucian people as a whole. If somehow, miraculously, 18 million dollars were to be found on the ministry’s doorstep one fine morning, six million would immediately disappear in ‘administrative’ costs, another six might simply disappear in some ‘unaccountable fashion’ while the remaining six might just, but only just, trickle down through the system to benefit one or two favoured projects.
We need to make Saint Lucia’s system of education stand out as an example to our neighbours. Take special interests, for example. In many countries, schools specialize in catering for exceptionally gifted students who possess unique talents: the most obvious area would be in sports, but there are many others. Grande Riviere Dennery is ideally placed to become a centre of excellence in agriculture. Already, some of our most active benefactors have assisted in setting up agricultural projects in the valley. It would not take too much effort to create a school that not only provided an all-round education, but also encouraged our brightest, most talented agriculturalists to pursue careers in the farming sectors, and I am not just talking about the practicalities of farming but also the fields of scientific research, economic planning, environmental sustainability, etc. Agriculture holds so much promise, but success does not grow without investment. Elevate the school’s status to a College of Agriculture and show the Caribbean how to harness and best harvest the region’s natural resources.
Anyone who has ever tried to get anything fixed or built in Saint Lucia will be well aware that our workforce is woefully lacking in skills. Convert Marigot, or any place else, into a Vocational College where our future builders, masons, carpenters, plumbers can gain essential skills and learn the latest techniques and explore state of the art technology whilst receiving a solid foundation grounded in a good general education.
In Soufriere, with its captive communities all within a cozy distance of each other, we could set up a real Teacher Training College that would not only provide general teaching certificates but would also provide schools with instructors well qualified to address the needs of special education, vocational training, science and technology, and perhaps even sports and gymnastics. Talking of which, we already have our own heroes. Vieux Fort could host the nation’s Sporting Academy that would produce athletes with excellent academic and sporting qualifications.
I could go on and on, you know I could, but the point is that the status quo is simply not acceptable. Bold measures are needed. The new century is already 16 percent gone. Remember that Fortune Favours the Brave! Let’s turn Saint Lucia into an education powerhouse to secure a better future for all.