Former Education Minister, Senator Franka Alexis-Bernardine has said that the Keith Mitchell-led government’s inability to adequately supply school furniture to schools across the island is one of policy implementation.
The female Senator’s comment stems from the ongoing Grenada Boys Secondary School (GBSS) saga that surfaced approximately two weeks ago, in which a letter signed by Principal Phillip Thomas was sent out to parents informing them that before the present school term ends, a new furniture fee of $250 will be applied as a solution to resolving the issue of inadequate supply of furniture at the school.
The Ministry of Education has rejected the letter by indicating that “it had no prior information of, nor did it endorse the GBSS initiative (and that it) became aware of the initiative via a news item on a private television’s nightly newscast.
The ministry informed parents that they should not comply with the GBSS request, noting that “it is the duty of the Ministry of Education to ensure that each school is outfitted with furniture to meet the needs of their students.”
Commenting on the issue during last week’s NDC press conference in St. George’s, Sen. Bernardine expressed the view that the GBSS principal should not be put in hot water by the ministry over the letter.
She said the issue at stake is “the implementation or the lack of it thereof, of the policy that already exist and has been in existence prior to the NDC taking office following the 2008 elections.”
She said “it is clear from the comments both from the school and other associated bodies that the procedure, although submitted followed by and large and requests made on the usual requisition form…indicating the needs of the school in terms of furniture…that was not forthcoming for the GBSS as it was not for many schools across the island and that was the issue.”
Sen. Bernardine cited the maintenance of schools as “something that has to be kept up on a regular basis as well as all other aspects of the education system.
She stressed the need for “maintenance of all systems”, saying that “administratively, systems don’t run for themselves, people run them and people have to be monitored (so) it is incumbent upon the ultimate person in charge, the Minister (of Education), who must in fact monitor these things visit he schools, see clearly where what was requested…and therefore you keep abreast with what is needed and what isn’t.
“It is clear (that) this has not happened in the case of the GBSS, because several requests have been made over the last three or four years (for material assistance)”, she remarked.
Sen. Bernardine went on: “It would seem a shame, in a country that has so many woodwork departments and indeed so many skilled carpenters that we should find ourselves in the unthinkable position of not having school furniture in one of the main secondary schools on the island. It speaks to poor management and neglect.
“So we (NDC) don’t see the principal to be blamed at all…we see it as an initiative that the principal and his staff would have undertaken”, she said.
Current Education Minister Anthony Boatswain has reportedly been running the ministry in a rather lacklustre manner.
Boatswain is said to have called his first staff meeting with workers at the Ministry of Education some three years after he was assigned the portfolio by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.
In addressing the GBSS situation at a recent post-Cabinet press briefing, Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Sen. Simon Stiell told the nation that “GBSS did not follow the proper procedure” in asking parents to pay the fee to replace damaged furniture at the school.
According to Stiell, there was no communication from the school to either Minister Boatswain, himself, or the Chief Education Officer, Elvis Morain with regards to their furniture needs.
Stiell’s remarks angered the Grenada Union of Teachers and in retaliation and in defense of the GBSS Principal, it staged a one-day strike last Thursday by calling on all school principals and teachers to stay away from the classroom for the day.