Our Readers' Opinions
March 27, 2009
North Leeward, Education and a school bus

by Dr. Jerrol Thompson 27.MAR.09

There are over 140 North Leeward students attending schools in Kingstown, while 730 students attend secondary school either at the Troumaca Secondary School or the Petit Bordel Secondary School in North Leeward.

Since their respective inaugurations in 1970 and 1974, these centres of learning have transformed the human capacity of North Leeward and provided opportunities for so many, compared to the colonial era.{{more}} These rural secondary schools have produced some outstanding citizens and many students with excellent Common Entrance Exam (CEE) passes have chosen to stay in North Leeward with teachers dedicated to the students from their region. Unfortunately, the poorer performers at the CEE were too often branded as failures and I recall fighting to ensure many a late developer were admitted, many of whom later produced excellent CXC performances. John Horne tried to turn Troumaca Secondary School into a primary school and move the Troumaca Secondary School students by bus to Petit Bordel simply in the name of cost effectiveness. This ill-fated, misguided plan was elitist, discriminatory and would have been disastrous. The fundamental flaw was that it only aimed at enrolling common entrance passes at a time when roughly 2,600 persons took the CE exam but only 1000 passed. The rest were left behind. That era had no vision what-so-ever of Universal Secondary Education, in contrast to the impact of the Education Revolution today.

A Tech Voc Center was constructed at Petit Bordel, which included programmes geared to poor performers, but this did not focus on raising their competency in reading and numeracy. We now realise that carpenters, masons, etc. must have a basic education if they are to truly excel in their trade. Recently, new science labs were constructed at Petit Bordel, finally accomplishing what John Horne should have done in 1994.

Over the years, there has also been a growing number of persons attending secondary school in Kingstown. The government policy ensures free choice of secondary educational institution, as opposed to zoning, and like anywhere else in the nation, many top CEE performers often choose schools like Grammar School, GHS, St. Martin’s, etc, in Kingstown.

However, North Leeward students have had a terrible time securing reliable transport to and from Kingstown. Some van drivers have been reluctant to forgo the higher fare for an adult passenger in favour of these Kingstown bound students. Any breakdown in the fleet of vans often throws the transport system into a tail spin and at the end of month, a mad rush frequently leaves many students scrunting for a ride and late for school. In the late evening, some stranded students have had to hop rides on trucks or seek other assistance to get home.

Many unsuccessful efforts have been made to encourage private van owners to accept duty free concessions for larger buses to transport students. In 2008, the government purchased a bus. It has surprised me that it takes (6 months) to order a new bus, but now it has arrived. With a significant numbers of students from each village, there would no doubt be some challenges to overcome and ensuring a fair and well distributed service to all the villages. Some villages like Rose Hall and Spring Village were at a disadvantage and could be bypassed by the bus filled by students at the start of its journey. An assessment has been done in each village, and 40 students distributed between each village, with emphasis on the most needy, are expected to use the bus service on a regular basis, instead of a chaotic ad-hoc system.

The new North Leeward School Bus will complement the existing busses which currently provide transport and should not be seen as a replacement. Collectively, every student will get to school on time and return home safely. Over the years, many vans have provided a service to students. I want to thank some vans like Drop-Leaf, Commitment, Liberty, Troy-P, Exodus, Sugars, Bless-Up Del-E, etc., and one individual of blessed memory, Arrow, who was a staple in student transport. I also want to congratulate the North Windward Fair Trade organisation for a similar provision of a school bus.