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Thursday 24 May 2018
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Letters to the Editor

Schools slowly grinding to halt

THE EDITOR: As a recently retired principal, I wish to inform the population that schools are slowly grinding to a halt, with all the attendant consequences.

I write this fully understanding and appreciating the nation’s economic limitations, but my concern has less to do with funding availability and more to do with processes and procedures and even moreso the desire of the Ministry of Education to always emerge smelling like a rose.

The common practice is that the ministry informs schools that they will receive X amount of dollars for the financial year, so planning for the expenditure of X amount of dollars begins. However, when funds are eventually released, schools actually receive much less than the amount indicated. So a revision of the plan occurs, and understandably so during these difficult economic times. But schools are never given an indication of the real amount to be disbursed so that sensible planning for repairs, purchase of teaching resources etc can take place, especially during the vacation period.

During the last two years, many schools had to cancel essential repair contracts and purchase of vital supplies because of this absence of forthrightness from the ministry.

Many schools will grind to a halt because suppliers (stationery, hardware, agricultural, sporting, ICT, visual arts, groceries etc) providing items to them in 2016 were only paid last November, even though all paperwork was submitted to the relevant departments in a timely manner. Eleven months to receive payments.

Many providers and suppliers have downright refused to conduct business with schools because of the extraordinary delay in receiving payments from the ministry.

Additionally, during the longest term of the academic year (September to December), schools traditionally receive no funding until the very end of the term in late November or early December, this being a recent practice. When machines break down, as they do, schools depend on the generosity of neighbour schools for the printing of examination papers and other documents etc.

This is aggravated by the instruction from the previous minister of education (2010-2015) that schools are debarred from fundraising activities, an instruction that was never rescinded by the current minister(s).

Schools are expressly forbidden from taking items on credit from suppliers, so students could now be unnecessarily sent home because of flooding caused by leaking pipes or other trivial and easily avoidable reasons since suppliers are unwilling to supply items from lack of payment, or the inability of schools to receive items on credit.

Up to the day before schools reopened in January, they were yet to receive funding from the ministry. In fact, the last time schools received funding was at the end of June 2017, with the stipulation that all funding must be used by mid-July 2017.

For the period September to December 2017, schools managed only by the grace of God and the creativity of principals, with many providing resources from their own pockets or shortchanging children by doing without.

Denominational schools have also not as yet received funding to pay for critical security and janitorial services. With no repair and maintenance works conducted by schools during the December 2017 vacation because of a lack of funding (except emergency works undertaken directly by the ministry), schools are expected to grind to a halt this new year. With no watertanks cleaned, no toilet repairs, no replacement of whiteboards, no purchase of simple, basic classroom supplies like markers and erasers etc, no repair and/or replacement of furniture for both staff and students, interruption to school, though not welcome, is expected.

S HOSEIN, Barrackpore

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