As a country, we have nothing to boast about if we are not looking after the education of our children in preparation for assuming responsibility for their lives and the nation.
To have children out of school because of management failures at the level of the government is not only a disgrace but a betrayal of the Independence pledge to equip our children to realise the future of our dreams for them.
For too many children in 21st century T&T, the school experience is short-changed by ongoing instability which most disadvantages those in low-income, rural communities for whom education is the one legal ticket out of poverty.
Hardly a month goes by without a school being shut down as a result of either collapsing infrastructure, or insect or animal infestation, or school violence, or invasive crime, or teacher dissatisfaction due to working conditions or terms of employment.
In South Trinidad this week, parents and pupils were out in protest against the abrupt closure of the Point Fortin East Secondary School where 694 pupils again found themselves locked out because of the need for urgent repairs to the building. This, notwithstanding the $700,000 spent on repairs during the July-August holidays last year. The public official who signed off on this repair project must explain the oversight failures that resulted in OSHA declaring the building unfit for occupation, pending completion of repairs.
At the other end of the island, in Blanchisseuse along the north coast, 105 pupils of La Fillette Primary School are pleading for a building of their own. For over 70 years, generations of pupils shared a building with the La Fillette Roman Catholic Church until it became unfit for occupation. From there they were moved to Blanchisseuse Secondary School which parents have deemed unsuitable due to poor lighting and exposure to weather conditions, among other issues.
In Central Trinidad, Couva West Secondary School has been closed since October due to health and safety problems going back almost seven years. In the same region, 770 pupils were affected when Edinburgh Government Primary School was shut down by a mould problem. The Ministry of Education and the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association remain in dispute over an OSHA report declaring the school fit for occupation.
Still in Central Trinidad, pupils of Preysal Government Primary School have been twice disrupted, first by being moved to the Preysal Community Centre while their school was being rebuilt, and more recently by a leaking commercial valve at the community centre which was not repaired as promised during the Christmas holidays. Meanwhile, work has been stopped at the unfinished new school.
In Port of Spain, classes at South East Port of Spain Secondary School were disrupted last November after a stray bullet entered a classroom, leaving staff and pupils afraid to return. Concrete louvres are reportedly being installed as a protective measure.
The list goes on and on. For thousands of children, the boast of free education masks the reality of the high price paid in frustration and an inequality of treatment that risks leaving thousands of children behind their peers in the race to the future.