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Time to deal with education issues
The importance of building into the school curriculum what is being referred to as “character education,” and the questioning of the right of the Ministry of Education to merge students of the Point Cumana RC Primary School with the government school in the area into one compound are matters calling for attention in the education system.
The temporary merging of the students and teachers of the two schools came about because of the dilapidated condition of the RC school. The Minister of Education, Dr Tim Gopeesingh, took the decision after he met with representatives of parents, the MP for the area, ministry officials, the Roman Catholic Board and teachers of the two schools.
Nevertheless, Archbishop Joseph Harris, in very stern language, has objected to the decision on the basis of teachers and students of the RC school being Catholic and needing to protect the character of the school. The archbishop has promised legal action against the decision. Immediately the threat of Archbishop Harris reopens consideration of the 1961 Concordat between the Government and the denominational bodies.
While different in how the controversy at the Tunapuna Hindu School was played out, there are similarities in the two situations. The Maha Sabha insisted that the essential character of its school was being threatened by the conduct of the principal, and the archbishop is now saying that Catholic teachers and students need to be in their religious environment.
The conditions which existed in 1961 that led to the formulation of the Concordat are obviously very different from what they are today in the second decade of the 21st century. The norms, the expectations, the contributions to the physical upkeep of the denominational schools and all the other matters involved in running a school appropriate to the needs and expectations of all interest groups have dramatically changed.
For decades now, over succeeding administrations, there has been talk about reviewing the Concordat. But as with so much else, there has only been talk and no action to deal constructively and fundamentally with the terms of governance of the denominational schools. The time is now.
Secondly, and not very different from the first matter, is the Education Minister’s decision to place on the curriculum of the primary schools the building of character of students to complement the academic work. It must be recognised that very often the denominational primary and secondary schools have achieved higher standards of behaviour, as well as academic accomplishment, than the government schools.
The secretary general of the Maha Sabha has immediately responded to the move by saying that character-building is a form of education that has long been instituted by the denominational schools. The vital importance of education—not just in academic terms, but the way young people are being prepared for life—is reason enough for all the stakeholders in education to engage in serious discussion on how the education system is to be reshaped.
Every year hundreds of millions of dollars, and recently as much as $2-3 billion, has been spent on education. But not even the present minister would claim that total value is being received for the dollars spent.
The country feels the pressure from the fact that a large percentage of students does not benefit in any significant degree from the primary and secondary education offered them at very high costs. Instead of having to fight fires and court cases on an ongoing basis, the Government should engage the denominations, parents and teachers in a conversation on the broad range of issues involved in education.
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