The Education Ministry advised the public of its efforts to ensure that all schools are ready to begin work today at a press conference on Saturday. The ministry has been working with regional corporations, TTUTA, PTSC and the denominational boards of management to ensure that schools are properly prepared for today's start to a new school year. Contracts have been issued, and a heartening complement of 150 school social workers have been hired to complement the Student Support Services Division. But those plans have hit two significant hurdles, neither of which was on the ministry's agenda when school closed in early July.
On Saturday, Minister of Education Anthony Garcia, sharing the microphone with Dr Lovell Francis, Minister in the Education Ministry and Raffiena Ali-Boodoosingh, president of the National Parent-Teacher Association, revealed the extent to which the earthquake on August 21 had affected the infrastructure of schools in TT.
A total of 66 schools have been flagged by the ministry as suffering varying degrees of earthquake damage. Structural engineers engaged by the ministry have visited more than 50 of the schools and five schools will remain closed today as a result of their investigations, Curepe Anglican, Forest Reserve Anglican, Santa Maria RC, St Paul's Anglican Primary and Dayanand Vedic Primary. There has been no indication of when those schools will be ready for occupation, and they have suffered structural damage ranging from building cracks to damaged sewer lines. St Phillips Government Primary, which will occupy the Belmont Boys RC building, is still undergoing earthquake assessment and electrical works are still in progress at La Romain Secondary after a fire in May.
The Education Minister gave conciliatory undertakings that these remedial efforts are being pursued with urgency but condemned the call by TTUTA to teachers to "rest and reflect" on Friday in solidarity with the OWTU. This rash and reflexive call has been met with concern generally and is being taken very seriously by the Education Minister, who has called on the Attorney General to investigate the legality of the call for strike action.
Raffiena Ali-Boodoosingh pointed out that beyond the loss of another school day, it's a threat that stands in stark contrast to the mission of schools to encourage students to talk, to understand and to empathise. It is, to be more pointed, a lazy response to the hard-economic realities that face TT. Had TTUTA's Lynsley Doodhai asked the nation's teachers to spend their lunch hour on Friday answering questions from curious students about the closure of Petrotrin, he would have had an opportunity to show leadership from an educator's perspective.
He still has an opportunity to show solidarity in a more useful way.