It was our own Sir Arthur Lewis who proposed that ‘the fundamental cure for poverty is not money, but knowledge’. As a developing nation, we understand the emphasis placed on education since it serves as a stepping stone to development. It is a way of gaining new knowledge to foster new ideas, and to create links in an effort to move the country forward. With this in mind, there is also the need for well equipped and properly maintained institutions to facilitate learning. Sadly, this is not always the case, as most recently observed at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College.
A 2016 report by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) identified ‘air quality concerns of varying degrees’ which would possibly be harmful to the wellbeing of students and staff at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College. Termites, elevated temperatures and humidity levels and, of course, the mould were of immediate concern to CARPHA. The mould specimens existing in many buildings were known to cause respiratory infections, sinusitis, asthma and some forms of brain infections, as well as rashes and skin infections.
Prior to this, the building housing the Hospitality Studies division was condemned due to failure to upkeep its condition. Three wooden structures were also demolished as they were unfit to house any students.
Following the CARPHA report, and already taxed for space, SALCC issued an August 2016 press release informing the public of the temporary relocation of three divisions of the tertiary education institution to the George Charles Secondary School in Cul de Sac. Effective the start of the 2016/2017 academic year, the Division of Agriculture, Health Sciences and Teacher Education would be housed in what came to be known as the ‘Good Lands Extension’.
What was seen as a temporary fix to remedy the myriad of issues at the SALCC Morne campus was, in actuality, an issue itself. The divisions housed at the George Charles Secondary School took to the media in September 2016 to express disappoint with the conditions in the new location. The absence of efficient Wi-Fi, the distance from the road, safety concerns and the lack of shuttles were all listed as hindrances to learning.
One lecturer disclosed that shuttle services to and from the George Charles Secondary School and the Morne campus were provided at first, but were then discontinued. Members of staff who taught across divisions were left to make their own way to each location. In some instances, lecturers arranged for students from the Agricultural department to attend classes at the Morne. This created yet another issue as it would cut into free time or lunch breaks.
Per another lecturer at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, the Ministry of Education has failed to provide them with any information relating to repairs and moving the affected divisions back to the Morne campus.
Efforts to contact Chief Education Officer Marcus Edward were unsuccessful this week, as he is currently out on vacation until December 31. Deputy Chief Education Officer Ruffina Charles was also unavailable for comment.
However, according to communications personnel from the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, the Ministry of Infrastructure visited the school on October 23 to assess the condition of the Victor Archer building. Nonetheless, no assessments have been conducted on the Hunter J Francois library or the Leton Thomas building which housed the Department of Teacher Education and Educational Administration. The move back to the Morne Campus, therefore, is unlikely to take place within the current academic year, or even the next. In an effort to generate revenue, additional programmes have been added, and tuition costs would serve as maintenance funds.
But SALCC has not been the only school affected by poor infrastructure or environmental conditions, some of which still have not been addressed. For years, two buildings of the Choiseul Secondary School remained in a deplorable condition, and yet housed not just students, but science labs, bathroom facilities and a resource room. Although the principal was ‘not at liberty to disclose’ exact details, the demolition and reconstruction of these buildings has begun, albeit a few years late. Consequently, the affected students at Choiseul have been housed in a temporary wooden structure near the school.
The Micoud Secondary School also has its fair share of structural inadequacies. Unsound buildings, leaking roofs, mould and termite infestations were all catalysts to protest action which took place earlier in the school year. According to Education Minister Gale Rigobert, the budget ‘allocation was woefully inadequate’ as regards school renovation. Indeed, the prime minister’s budget speech for 2017/18 made mention of greater use of ICT and ‘[maximizing] the use of resources deployed at our schools’; however, no mention was made of apportioning funds to school upkeep.
This is not a new concern. As the education minister stated, these issues did not happen over the course of one or two years. Failure to maintain and repair simple issues worsened into the present state of many of our schools.
The Reunion RC Primary School in Choiseul, too, is in dire need of repairs. Exposed steel, missing louvres on windows and leaking roofs make for an unsuitable learning environment.
The issue at hand seems to be that not enough emphasis is placed on the importance of sound school infrastructure. National budget allocations never match up to the hefty amounts needed to maintain the 72 primary schools and 26 secondary schools on island. What does happen, on the other hand, is an accumulation of problems over a number of years, which eventually leads to the condemnation of school buildings.
It is imperative that the ministries of education and infrastructure learn from previous errors and realize how much it would save us as a country, to deal with these structural issues as they occur.