Once again, a school year begins with the prospect of some schools not ready for resumption of classes. It is a scenario that is repeated at the start of every term—some primary and secondary students get an extension on their vacation time because repairs to their school buildings were either not completed, or never got started. The first indicator that all might not go smoothly at the start of this term was the warning from the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association last week that several schools were not ready to reopen. As a result, the union said it will advise its members not to report for duty. The National Parent Teachers’ Association has also weighed in on the issue, calling on the Education Ministry to investigate why repairs to so many schools are incomplete.
Unfinished school repairs are a recurring situation in T&T's education system. It is still commonplace for hundreds of school children to miss out on days and weeks of class time because of the dilapidated state of school buildings. Too often, there are complaints about malfunctioning toilets, faulty sewer systems, leaking roofs, electrical problems and numerous other challenges putting the health and safety of students and teachers at risk. Even during the school term, with disturbing regularity, there are cases of classes being disrupted and protests and appeals from PTAs and other education stakeholders over deteriorating school infrastructure. All these promises should have been well behind us by now. Successive ministers and technocrats in the Ministry of Education have promised. In fact, the Education Facilities Company Limited, an agency within the Education Ministry, was set up to deliver and maintain modern school facilities. However, their success in fulfilling that mandate is very limited. There is still of long list of schools waiting to be constructed or repaired, still a situation where children struggle to get their education in buildings that are falling apart. Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh recently complained about the frustrating bureaucracy that hinders his efforts to address the many challenges in T&T's education system.
High on that list, we are sure, must be the poor state of school infrastructure. Although in recent months, with great fuss and fanfare, some new schools have been completed and officially opened, there are still many more in urgent need of attention. One example is the La Pastora RC School, housed in a structure about 100 years old which is hardly fit for occupation. It is to the credit of a group of dedicated parents and staff that this school will not be among the several unable to open tomorrow. Because these parents and others were willing to dip into their own pockets and donate time and energy as well, the pupils of that Santa Cruz school will return to their classes, hopefully without any disruptions. However, many other school children will not be so fortunate. Clearly, the systems for constructing, repairing and maintaining the nation's school are inadequate. This is a problem that must be given the highest priority