Last week, the Department of Public Information reported on the government’s policies and measures for the development of education in Guyana. Under the heading “Rehabilitation and construction of schools”, it is noted that the administration “has invested a large amount in the restoration of schools and the construction of new ones throughout the country in order to ensure the comfortable accommodation of students when schools open.” On primary schools, he referred to schools under construction in Karabairu and Bamia/Amelia’s Ward, which are expected to be completed by the end of 2022 and 2023 respectively.
Perhaps the DPI reporters hadn’t heard of Santa Rosa Elementary School, whose parents were out of school last month to protest the condition of the school, which was said to be structurally unsafe. Donna Henry, head of the PTA, told this newspaper that the roof had leaked and the boards had rotted, posing a danger to the children. According to him, the old building is not repaired. Although part of the wall was repaired and some parts were repainted based on complaints received about the condition of the structure, the problem was not resolved.
One of the teachers, who did not want to be named, told our reporter that due to the rainwater leaking from the roof, they cannot use any teaching materials in the classrooms, and at the same time, the classes are closed in narrow rooms and sometimes they have to move around the room. getting wet when it rains. There may be several other schools in the country whose students have to walk around the classroom to attend classes when the weather is not right. Tents were reportedly set up in the compound, but they could only accommodate ten children and when it rained, they were like “fish ponds,” as Mrs. Henry said. So much for “comfortable living”.
The problems with Santa Rosa Primary are nothing new. Almost exactly a year ago, parents of children attending this school came out again with their placards, protesting the school’s failure to facilitate face-to-face teaching. According to the teacher, although the assistant of the Regional Director of Education and the District Education Department were informed about the situation, necessary sanitary measures were not taken. “Teachers protested things beyond their control,” said a staff member. These include complaints about sanitation blocks, water, hand washing and overflowing toilets for both teachers and children. In the end, the students had to be taken home due to sanitary conditions.
It is one of the mysteries of this nation that, after a long hiatus, the educational authorities devote time to school repairs and the like, and never seem ready when the school opens in September. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is usually no need to look for answers beyond this country’s particular strain of bureaucratic whimsy. We have a unique ability to make problems out of small issues, and even where problems are not so small, they are often not resolved rationally, let alone in a timely manner. The default position is always to postpone or do nothing.
The first obstacle in this case is related to land ownership. The school is located on land owned by the Roman Catholic Church, as it was once a parish school. The authorities are aware of this, yet they have refused to contact the Church authorities for initial permission regarding the tents. Regional Councilor Maurice Torres told this newspaper early last month that they had to get permission from the priest before doing anything, “and the priest said they have not received any letter from the region asking for permission so far. will implement the construction of the school”.
In short, verbal communication is not enough in these situations; some kind of official letter should be sent for record. The same problem arose with the renovation of the building. Some parents believe the building is beyond repair, but the District has signed an $18 million contract with a contractor for renovations. Brentnol Ashley, regional chairman, responded to a question about the bishop’s delay in granting permission for the renovation:
“In the past the church would have helped, but I believe what they want is for the legal authorities like our Ministry of Regions and Education to formally write them up and have formal discussions with them to get permission. “Even though the school has been on this land for ten years, it suddenly starts causing problems.” Hardly anyone could think. No matter how long the school remained on the land, a formal application had to be made. At the beginning of last month, when our reporter spoke with the chairman, the meeting had not been scheduled.
But the contract itself became a problem in any case, as the contractor reneged on the contract, claiming that the money was insufficient for the required repairs. When this newspaper spoke to Councilor Torres, he said no effort was made by the local authority to tender for another contractor after the contractor refused the contract. As for the regional chairman, he was not an accurate source of information on the subject. When asked if efforts were made to transfer the contract to another contractor or if the amount of the project was increased, he replied that although he was aware of the contract, he did not know the specific amount or what happened to it. . He said he would have to consult with the Regional Tender Board to find out.
Apparently, this was the situation when the school was opened: There was no contract and no bishop’s permission known to anyone outside the regional authority. It was clear that children and teachers could not function in a dangerous environment, and the solution was to introduce a shift system. Although necessary under the circumstances, it was hardly conducive to learning or teaching.
So it should come as no surprise that frustrated parents decided it was time to speak up and later showed up peacefully outside a Santa Rosa school with placards. Apparently this focused minds nicely at the bureaucratic level, as it didn’t take long for heavyweights from Georgetown and the District to emerge. Chief Education Officer Dr Marcel Huston, Deputy Chief Education Officer for Educational Development in the Americas and India Marty De Souza, new Regional Education Officer Elly Peterkin and her predecessor Chevion Bovell Success, as well as Santa Rosa Elementary Principal Hermina Rebeiro, district Education Officer Cliva Joseph and regional Vice President Annansha Peters met with protesting parents and teachers.
PTA Secretary Duane Hetzberger told this newspaper that parents agree the shift system is the best way forward, but officials also agree the building can no longer be occupied until emergency repairs are made. According to him, the contractor is expected to visit the site with his team and determine the work to be done. What was not clear to Stabroek News was whether it was a new contractor or the original contractor who rejected the contract when it was originally awarded but has now come to some accommodation. Mr. Hetsberger also said that the issue of the regional authorities requesting permission from the bishop for rehabilitation work has also been resolved.
Some parents felt that it was time for the authorities to consider building a new school as the population of 311 had increased in addition to the existing school. Chairman Ashley, who earlier disclosed this to this newspaper, confirmed that due to the influx of students from Santa Rosa Village, the Region and the Ministry have negotiated with Toshao and the Village Council to look for land elsewhere to build a more modern school. A school that can accommodate all students from Santa Rosa and nearby areas.
How soon that will happen remains to be seen, but in the meantime, Mr. Hetsberger said parents are hopeful the contractor can quickly complete renovations to the existing building. What is striking about this story is that there have been various delays, with an equal number of excuses, in addressing Santa Rosa Elementary School’s problems. However, when parents came out with placards and officials came to meet them, all inhibitions were removed. It seems that what parents in Santa Rosa really encountered when they came out to protest was another example of bureaucratic indecision.