SCHOOL HOLIDAYS will soon be over and many will this week seek to make the most of the last days of August. We hope students and parents alike have a safe and enjoyable week before the inevitable back-to-school blues kick in.
But while families are expected to be taking it easy, the same should not be the case when it comes to the State and its efforts to ensure schools reopen on time. This year, there is the added complication of the need to ensure all buildings are structurally sound given the massive 6.9 earthquake experienced last week. According to the National Emergency Operations Centre, about 45 aftershocks have been recorded and some have been of a magnitude large enough to be felt.
Two Fridays ago, Minister of Education Anthony Garcia told Newsday a total of 160 primary and secondary schools have been earmarked for repairs, but after further assessment by the ministry, only 130 schools were to be repaired during the vacation.
In light of last week’s events, those figures will now have to be revised. It is likely, therefore, that the ministry will also have to revise its $48 million repair budget. But when it comes to ensuring the safety of students, corners cannot be cut and we strongly call for the necessary resources to be allocated expeditiously. While the ministry had noted some repairs can occur later in December, there is now a heightened degree of urgency.
We also warn all stakeholders against engaging in partisan politics. The opening of the school term is, annually, regarded as a barometer of the performance of the State in the education sector. But in the current circumstances, when the need to ensure safety will undoubtedly lead to unplanned delays, the situation should be viewed more reasonably.
We call on all to avoid using the opening of the school term as an occasion to score political points. The focus should be on keeping children safe and ensuring schools – which also double as emergency shelters – remain structurally sound.
Meanwhile, officials in Tobago must also ensure all finishing touches take into account the need for earthquake compliance. Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles, who also holds the portfolio of Secretary for Education, Innovation, and Energy, has detailed a $15 million repair process involving 83 construction packages and 51 contractors.
Udecott has also been tasked with completing expansions of the Hope Anglican, Patience Hill Government, Signal Hill Government and Whim Anglican Schools. Additionally, there has been work on the Smithfield Connector Road and the new Scarborough RC School at Smithfield.
The large number of projects is laudable. But what matters is quality, not quantity. In this regard, the standard of work in coming days must be carefully monitored by both the THA and the ministry.