About three years after the PPP came to power in 1992, I went to Dr. Dale Bisnauth, Minister of Education, with an explosive piece of research. Shortly before the PNC Government demitted office, I began the project. I even sought and got an interview in 1991 with then Permanent Secretary in the Education Ministry, Noel Adonis.
I collected data given to me then and continued to receive help from education officials who by then were serving a new government.
Dr. Bisnauth told me the findings were too burdensome for him, and that the recommendations in the research were beyond his jurisdiction. He suggested I seek the intervention of President Jagan.
After six months, I did not receive any correspondence from President Jagan, so I made contact with his office. He told me he passed on my findings to Donald Ramotar to study so it can be brought up by the PPP as an issue to forward to the Government. That was the end of the matter.
In all honesty, that was so long ago, I cannot remember if I spoke to Mr. Ramotar on that specific issue. What my four-year inquiry found was that primary school placements concealed terrible, horrible, horrific injustices against poor people. In all the top primary schools (of which St. Margaret’s and Stella Maris were the most sought after), the children of poor parents were excluded, even though residence proximity and place of employment would make those schools the logical choices.
Mr. Adonis told me that Minister of Education, Deryck Bernard, was working on a six- point innovation in which primary school placements would be based on where you live, place of employment, siblings at the same school, etc. The PNC Government instituted that system in the final years of its rule. But my research contradicted this policy and I told Mr. Adonis this.
The placement fiasco was a nightmare for the PNC Government and Dale Bisnauth didn’t want to touch it, because he knew it was a volcano. The injustice was sickening. Rich people’s children who lived hundreds of miles away from St. Margaret’s and Stella Maris attended those schools, while children who resided in close proximity to these buildings were dispatched to institutions hundreds of miles away.
In other words, if you dwelled in Kitty, your child got a school in Charlestown, even though Stella Maris was a five-minute walk from Kitty.
From 1990, when I was a weekly columnist with the Stabroek News, I wrote about this semi-civilized injustice. In my Kaieteur News career, I must have mentioned this nastiness about ten times in my columns. Then when Dr. Henry Jeffrey was Minister of Education, I got into a confrontation with him.
A female neighbour of Dr. Daniel Kumar of UG went to him in tears. She lived one block away from West Ruimveldt Primary School, which at the time housed the famous Common Entrance teacher, Wilfred Success. But her child got a school ten miles away and she didn’t have the money for the daily transport. Dr. Kumar asked for my intervention.
We went to see Jeffrey. He was unmoved. He told us school placement was a random process. I rebuked him in a Stabroek News letter, but he repeated his random explanation in reply. I sought the intervention of the Ombudsman. I didn’t hear from him and on contact he told me the Education Ministry refused to reply to him
Confidential sources in the Ministry of Education have told me that this morbid injustice has reached pathological levels in the past two years. Parents who live in fancy suburbs up the East Coast and whose residences are outside of Georgetown have secured placements at St, Margaret’s and Stella Maris. Go to these schools in the afternoons and see the parked, expensive SUVs outside waiting for the children. One parent lived as far as Mahaica. Yet poor parents who live and work near these prestigious institutions are denied placements.
One parent was in tears when she spoke to me on Tuesday. She works two blocks from St. Margaret’s. Her child went to Starters Nursery behind St. Margaret’s yet her daughter wasn’t given St. Margaret’s.
This injustice, apart from devastating the children of the working class, also has an ethnic bias involved. It is time a lawyer file an injunction to stop an unreasonable placement, with the request by the lawyer to the judge for the Ministry of Education to produce the intake list with the addresses of the students and place of employment of parents.
I sincerely ask such human rights lawyers if they can get in touch with me. Let’s ask for court intervention to bring this evil to an end.
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