The Ministry of Education has its fingers crossed that the late start to the school repair programme carried out by the Roads, Buildings & General Services Authority (BRAGSA) as well as the recurring headache of outfitting schools with furniture will not result in any hiccups when students return to the classroom next week.
“I can assure you that we will be ready come September 4 everything is not going to be perfect but you are going to be in a position where you can perform,” Minister of Education told those in attendance at the Principals’ Seminar held on August 29 at the UWI Open Campus.
The Minister acknowledged the challenge of securing enough furniture for schools and called on educators to hammer home the point to students that the furniture needs to be treated properly.
“Principals, you have to impress on the school’s population that furniture is expensive and greater care must be taken. We have too much unnecessary destruction of furniture and putting too much pressure on the system to replace them.”
According to data from the Central Procurement Board, a total of 22 contracts were awarded to local individuals and businesses for the supply and delivery of additional furniture to schools across the country in September last year. The Ministry has repeatedly raised concerns about the financial cost to replace damaged furniture each school year.
The Education head said while the Ministry cannot say with certainty “that we will get it all right”, he promised to try to fill the need for furniture.
Adequate furnishing was not the only concern that the Minister raised during his address to school leaders. King said there are some teaching gaps that exist in certain subject areas and in some schools in some districts.
“In some of the subject disciplines we have a challenge. Come September fourth we will have enough teachers. We are going to add to that… sometimes the distribution across the country is not always what we would want for one reason or the other. Despite the fact that we have so many teachers we still have schools that are in need.”
The COVID-19 vaccine mandate, implemented in 2021, saw a hole being left in the education system when teachers were dismissed for refusing to take the vaccine. King said provisions have been made for these teachers to return to the classroom, with 60 teaching vacancies made available for the new school year.
“Of the teachers who did not take the vaccine when we look at the numbers who did not return or retire there are 119 between both primary and secondary schools. We have judged then that about 60 might return, it could be more or it could be less. We took basically half and thus far 35 have returned,” King told SEARCHLIGHT.