Some legislators in Suriname are hoping that school holidays at the end of the academic year in the former Dutch colony will soon coincide with the rest of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), to facilitate student exchanges and end a longstanding colonial anomaly. While Trinidad and Tobago students are currently in the midst of the long vacation, their Surinamese counterparts will have to wait until mid-August for a break, returning to school during the first week of October. “Marvin”, a taxi driver based in the city of Paramaribo, believes that if the Dutch-speaking republic is serious about Caricom, it should harmonise things like school vacations with the rest of the region. What has become an annual debate over when the school year ends hardly dominates public discourse, but travel industry players and persons interested in greater cohesion with the country’s Caricom neighbours and former coloniser, the Netherlands, are attempting to build a stronger case for change.
Dutch administrators who initially introduced the measure to coincide with homeland practices at the time and take advantage of favourable weather there, are now long gone and the Netherlands has since changed its annual summer vacation to the more widely-practised mid-July to late August period. Teachers’ unions have not openly dismissed the suggestion that change should come but have not been reported to have pursued the matter with any vigour. Attempts by T&T Guardian to get the views of two leading trade unionists in the education sector were unsuccessful. People in the travel business are however concerned that while flights from the Netherlands arrive full in the July-August period, there isn’t a correspondingly high level of travel in the opposite direction by Surinamese holiday-makers who traditionally head for Europe. Overseas-based Surinamese students returning home for vacation also find their home-based colleagues still at school and unable to share time together until the school bell rings well into the Dutch vacation.
But there are many detractors and doubting-Thomases on the validity of the argument for change. The teaching community, according to a poll conducted by the de Ware Tijd newspaper, is virtually split down the middle as, apparently, is wider public opinion. The publication quotes Marcellino Nerkust, who leads the Federation of Teachers’ Organisations (Fols), as saying the teaching community needs to be consulted before any change is made. Businesswoman, Amanda Palis, is among the supporters of change. She told T&T Guardian the annual school vacation was meant to occur during the hottest month of the year, but this was no longer the case. She, together with others polled, said the weather had changed, and therefore weakened the argument for maintaining the status quo. Many Surinamese would tell you that weather patterns have, indeed, shifted, though September remains, on average, the hottest month of the year.
Journalism student, Minanga Hertsberg, however said if the vacation period were to be changed, “you would have to change all the other vacations in-between.” She said this would lead to many disruptions in the school system. Gretl Wolfram, another journalism student, agrees. “This will change the rhythm of the school system,” she told T&T Guardian. Deep connections with the Netherlands are however likely to prevail in the end. “The only reason to change will be that we will then be in time with Holland,” Julio Irokromo, a public servant said. There is no current debate over school hours though, as primary school students go to school for 8.00 am and are finished for the day at 1.00 pm. Secondary school students get to class for 7.30 am and wrap-up at 12.30 pm.