“Trinidad and Tobago,” I patiently repeated for the second time.
“What?” She frustratingly retorted.
Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh says he hopes the issue raised by Arima Mayor George Hadeed about the use of the former premises of the Arima New Government Primary School will be resolved with discussion. He said he would meet with the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), the parent-teacher association and the principal of the Arima Central Secondary School to find a resolution.
The Arima Central Secondary School and the old Arima Primary School site were among 21 schools Gopeesingh visited yesterday to observe repairs by the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL). On Monday Hadeed questioned the Education Ministry’s decision to relocate the Arima Hindu School to the former premises of the Arima New Government Primary School. Hadeed said the premises were part of the Arima Central Secondary School and a promise had been made to return the premises to that school.
Gopeesingh, who addressed the media during the tour, said denominational boards had not been contributing to the upkeep of their schools. He said he understood the denominational boards had been trying to raise funds but said the ministry had to spend every cent. He said: “The denominational boards contribute nothing to the upkeep of their schools. We gave $160 a student in every school at primary level, so a school with 400 students we provide $64,000 for little changes here and there and for the purchase of things.
“There is not a cent that has been contributed by any board whatsoever. We pay for teachers. We pay for everything related to the denominational boards. “But,” Gopeesingh added, “we appreciate their input to the education system.” He said there was a need for improvement in the primary school system by the denominational boards.
Previously, for school construction the Government would spend two thirds and the board would spend one third but that had been stopped, he said, and while he could not make the decision for denominational boards to spend a certain amount on school repairs, there needed to be long-term discussion. “We will continue to do whatever we need to do, from the Ministry of Education’s perspective, to make sure that all of our 800-plus schools are taken care of and our students are properly housed in a suitable environment,” he said.
Yesterday was the second day that Gopeesingh had visited schools under construction and undergoing repairs and maintenance during the July/August vacation. The schools visited yesterday were being repaired by teams working on ceilings, toilets and other areas. While some schools were being repaired, Gopeesingh said others were being constructed.
“We have constructed 53 new ECCE centres. We constructed 16 new primary schools, 13 are almost complete as well, and another 21 have commenced construction.” He said a number of secondary schools were 65-70 per cent complete and the ministry also had a number of science and administrative blocks to be done. “It is a huge, mammoth undertaking in terms of infrastructure, construction, repairs and maintenance and so we want to ensure that we get value for money and the contractors are working feverishly.
“We want to make sure that every cent that we spend is properly spent,” he added. Gopeesingh is expected to meet with the president of the T&T Unified Teachers Association Devanand Sinanan and National Parent Teacher Association president Zena Ramatali today to discuss ways to work collectively to ensure schools were opened properly.