With the introduction of Universal Secondary Education (USE), senior primary schools and technical schools across the island were transformed into secondary schools to afford all students the opportunity to receive a secondary education. Among those schools, was the Vieux Fort Technical School. Eight years down the line. the institution will soon become redundant, with the expectation that the compound will house a new “elite” secondary school.
Following is an interview with the Vice Principal of the Vieux Fort Technical Secondary School, Patrick Lashley.
STAR: What are the reasons for the closure of the Vieux Fort Technical Secondary School?
PL: The reason for this is because the school has been under-populated. For this school year 2013/2014, we started with 105 students. We had 11 form ones, 30 form twos and 64 form fives. So the school will be left with 41 students after our graduation.
Also, for the school academic years 2010/2011 and 2011/2012, we received no students from Common Entrance; in 2012/2013 we received 27 with 7 transfers making it 34. So the government saw this as causing a financial constraint having to run the school with so few students.
The ministries of finance and education had to make a decision, and with the Prime Minister pushing towards another elite secondary school in Vieux Fort, the ministry thought this is was the best alternative.
STAR: What are the plans for the new “elite” school?
PL: We will see an end to the school as a technical secondary school. The plan is for Vieux Fort to have two elite schools. Come September, this school will be transformed to an elite institution and will be called Vieux Fort Beanefield Comprehensive Secondary School. The Vieux Fort Comprehensive Secondary which is currently a two campus school, will be amalgamated. Campus A which offered classes for form ones and twos, will now be housed at Campus B and become one school. It will be called the Vieux Fort La Ressource Comprehensive Secondary School.
STAR: How will the forty-one remaining students be catered for?
PL: In January of this year, the ministry met with parents of students from all of the educational districts that this school caters to (District 5-8). Students will be displaced to other schools which are nearest to their home address, unless their parents are able to afford to send their children to another preferred school then they can opt to do so. Also, some students will remain and will attend the new school.
STAR: How big of a challenge was it being transformed to a secondary school with the implementation of USE, and how has the school progressed?
PL: The students that we have here are very weak students, who are functioning at the Pre-K (Pre-Kindergarten) level. The highest performing students are at the Grade 6 level. Because of this, we had to implement a curriculum which would best suit them.
Within the first year of school, we did what is called the foundation year, where we do only literacy and numeracy before going into the form one syllabus. So the students actually started form one in form two, and a six year curriculum would have
been the appropriate solution for them.
Here, apart from the compulsory subjects, we offered courses in seven areas: Cosmetology, Joinery, Crop Production, Electrical Installation, Commercial Food Preparation, Auto Mechanics and Garment Construction.
Our overall employment rate was about 95%, so for every ten students who left this school, nine would be working within their first
three months. Students were placed at private sector institutions in Vieux Fort such as LUCELEC, SLASPA, Coconut Bay; whatever field they studied in, they were provided the opportunity to train and work once a week like normal staff. Also those who were from Soufriere were afforded training at businesses in Soufriere. So these students would not need to be trained upon leaving school because of their experience.
We also had passes at CXC (Caribbean Examinations Council), the students have managed to do well with all of their limitations. We have a pass rate of nearly 100%
in Food and Nutrition, in Physical Education we’ve had pass rates between 60-100%, and EDPM (Electronic Document Preparation and Management) 80%. At one point we had a student who was successful in P.O.B (Principles of Business).
STAR: What examination did the students sit on completion of their five year studies?
PL: We do a Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ), which is the fourth method of grading used by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).
With the CVQ, the students followed a module for their preferred skill/trade and they were examined after every chapter learnt. Their marks are accumulated and at the end they receive a certificate of completion.
In Saint Lucia we only offer CVQ at level one, which is the apprentice level. This means that any person with this certification is able to work in their respective field, but only under supervision.
Most importantly, with the CVQ, you are able to source work anywhere in the English speaking Caribbean, as the other islands have CVQ as part of their curriculums. So the CVQ was well suited to these students as the majority of them are not able to successfully sit the CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) examinations.
STAR: Will the students currently enrolled at the Vieux Fort Technical School be offered the CVQ at their new schools come September?
PL: They will follow their school’s curriculum. The schools may put them in a “slow category” which in itself may have its own implications, as students may feel discrim-inated against.
So these students really can’t be housed apart; they have to be placed among the others and they will struggle with the curriculum.
I believe there will be casualties. For example I believe this will contribute to an increase in the school dropout rate.
STAR: In your opinion, do you think that this decision to close the technical school and introduce a second elite
school is the best one going forward?
PL: I do not think that this decision is the best, although I understand the situation of the school being under populated. I think that the ministry should create an avenue for these students where they provide the CVQ for them, as they will not be able to cope with the CXC curriculum when they are transferred to the other schools.
Our curriculum was better suited to them as it catered to their education levels and their skill set.