Speaking at the closing ceremony of the Principal Leadership Series in San Fernando recently, Minister of state in the Ministry of Education Dr Lovell Francis sounded some sensible and hopeful notes for the Ministry's plans for education in TT.
The Principal Leadership Series was a welcome, if overdue attempt to bridge the gap between management of the classroom and management of an entire school, acknowledging the need to provide training for promising candidates for school management from the teaching pool to improve their ability to meet the demands of the role.
"We make you a principal and we expect, by magic," Francis said, "the person who was a teacher to operate as a principal."
The minister correctly observed that the requirements of a school principal are enormous, including curriculum implementation, infrastructure management and the demands of balancing the often precarious finances of education institutions.
It might have been impolitic of him to mention it at a public podium, but smart fundraising has long been part of the sprawling portfolio of local principals and their senior staff. It might also have been out of place for Francis to note some of the more worrisome shortfalls facing the Education Ministry since the start of the school term.
Students of Caripichaima Anglican Primary School, relocated to the distant California Government Primary School after their building was deemed uninhabitable, experienced spotty transport in their first school week. PTSC buses were promised, but none arrived on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday and Thursday two maxi taxis collected the children at 8.15 am, too late to get them to school on time.
While this incident might be written off as early hiccups, there really is no adequate explanation for the 2015 abandonment of a new school under construction to replace St Joseph Secondary School when the school it was meant to replace was clearly collapsing. The partially-constructed school structure has been stripped, and the shell is used by gangs, according to residents who warned Newsday’s reporters not to enter it last week. Both situations are a noticeable blemish on the generally good performance of the Education Ministry in preparing schools for reopening and deserve top-level intervention.
Francis also sounded positive notes about textbooks, noting that the ministry was investigating how it could assist parents in buying textbooks and musing aloud that "the time has come when we should be looking at implementing e-textbooks."
It remains to be seen whether such digitally driven thinking will become pervasive within the Ministry, and if such initiatives will find the active support of the sitting Minister of Education and a cohort of determinedly old-school administrators that continue to stymie sustainable change in the TT education system.