The Berbice Education District is making a lot of noise over reports that many schools experienced a shortage of furniture at the start of the new school year. Indeed some children were discomfited and took to using window ledges, the sides of desks and other innovative methods to complete whatever tasks they were assigned in the classroom.
Generally, during the holidays the Ministry of Education would rent schools for functions. Sometimes sections of the auditorium would be used for weddings and concerts and other social events. Guyanese are not known to be the most responsible people, especially those whose moral values leave a lot to be desired.
In many other places, the people who rent the facility are asked to pay a fee that would compensate for the damage to any property. At the end of a function there is some official who would supervise the return of the property and not any damage.
We do not want to believe that those schools in Berbice that experienced the furniture shortage were rented out. It may have been a case of furniture being packed away in such a manner that they were destroyed. Whatever the case, there should have been an inventory before the first day of school.
There was a rule that teachers visit schools at least a week before the opening. These teachers would have gone there to meet with the new students they would have noted any shortage of furniture and would have made the necessary requisitions.
For its part, the Education Ministry would have already commissioned furniture from the various suppliers. The teachers would provide their lists and by the time the schools would have reopened everything would have been in place. But these systems are not in place because the teachers believe that they are the ones who have been granted the holidays.
Even holiday programmes organized by the Ministry are largely ignored. This time around, the Ministry announced that it was going to sponsor a series of remedial classes during the holidays. This was treated as extra work and the teachers had to be paid extra.
The remarkable thing about this is that the administrators in Berbice became angry at the disclosure that there was a shortage of furniture. It was as if this was a state secret and that the disclosure was a threat to national security.
Once the story got out there was a concerted effort by the regional administration to sanction the messenger. There is also a move to have him removed as a teacher. The amazing thing is that the messenger used photographs to good effect to support his contention that indeed there was a shortage of furniture in some of the schools when schools reopened.
There is another consideration. Classrooms are getting larger. The student population is increasing because there is a studied policy that all must have access to education. At the primary level parents are encouraged to send their children to school because there is always the threat of prosecution.
At the secondary level, where this problem was most visible an increasing number of children now access secondary education either through established secondary schools or at primary tops—that section of the school that goes beyond the National Assessment examination.
The situation would have been worse had teachers been allowed to retain those poor performing students. The Education Ministry now talks about a policy that speaks of ‘No child left behind’. The furniture situation and the growing population at the secondary level must have prompted this ‘no child left behind policy.’
Whatever the case a simple administrative assessment would have seen the need to ensure that more furniture would be in the school. The situation seems to have been regularized. There have been no more reports of an absence of furniture.
What is worrying is the fact that the system has expanded its programme but it seems to have been paying little attention to the infrastructure. It is also failing to recognize that larger classrooms led to greater failures since teachers cannot pay attention to those students who need it more.
The complaint about the furniture is just one aspect of a shortcoming in the education system.
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