Politically-inspired protests have a strong stench. No matter how legitimate is the grouse that leads to protest action, it is not too hard to determine which protests enjoy political backing or are politically orchestrated.
The spate of protests over conditions at various schools stinks of political orchestration. When school after school begins to protest conditions, without hardly any resort to other means of resolving the source of ire, it can only mean that there are politicians behind the scene pulling the strings.
The problem with conditions at schools is nothing new. What is surprising is the spate of protests coming one after the other. And the suspicion grows when these protests follow closely on the heels of claims by the opposition that there is a crisis in education in the country and that education will be one of its priorities; high on its demands for the next Budget.
Is it then coincidental that suddenly protests have emerged at various schools across the country and that parents are closing down schools without resorting to discussions with the Ministry of Education over grouses? If you have lived long enough in Guyana or are familiar with the nature of politics in the country, the answer to that question would not be speculative.
Parents have no right to be padlocking the gates to any school. There is a right to protest, but if there are other parents and students who are willing to attend school, they should not be prevented. Condign action needs to be taken against any parent guilty of such unlawful acts. They should be arrested and charged. It is time that such unlawful and lawless behaviour is stamped out, regardless.
This is not suggesting that the grouses should not be addressed. They should be. However a serious examination of these grouses would yield very interesting results. In one case in the city, the parents of a school took to protest action over overcrowding and demanded that improved accommodation be provided.
What the Ministry of Education should immediately do in that instance is to undertake a survey of all the registered students at that particular school to see how many of them reside outside of the catchment area. Checks should be made at the addresses provided to verify that the children live within the catchment area and therefore are eligible to attend that school.
Secondly, the Ministry of Education needs to make an on-the-spot visit to all schools and record the names of students therein, since it is known that there are many schools in which backdoor admissions take place. After the Ministry would have placed students at schools, there are some parents who are able to inveigle school officials to accept their child without a placement letter for that school from the Ministry.
The Ministry of Education need not worry about finding persons to undertake these surveys. They can ask high school students to undertake this research as part of their training for school-based assessments. These children are going to do an honest job and it would allow for the ministry to rationalize school placements, eradicate backdoor admissions, and expose the fact that many parents are going to great ends to have their children admitted to certain schools.
The Ministry of Education must acknowledge that there is an administration problem within the school system. A centralized Ministry cannot implement systems to ensure that all schools are always in a state of readiness for the school year. The regional administrations also lack the capacity to do this.
Therefore what is needed is a plan to strengthen the administrations within schools, through a partnership between parent-teacher associations (PTAs), old student associations and the Ministry, so as to ensure that schools are equipped and fit to conduct classes.
These bodies will be able to raise the requisite resources and since they will be on the ground, they are best positioned to ensure that many of the grouses that are being complained about are fixed.
The biggest mistake that was made in education was when former President, Bharrat Jagdeo, indicated to parents that the payment of contingency fees was not compulsory.
In Guyana, if you tell parents that a fee that is necessary to ensure the day-to-day expenses of schools are met is not compulsory, the majority of these parents will not contribute a dime, but will still expect the toilets to be spotless and running water to be provided.
The Ministry of Education may have the resources to fund such things, but they do not have the management to make them happen and therefore it devolves on the schools themselves to fix these problems. As such, contingency fees should be made compulsory, because once it is voluntary, the school is going to be starved of funds to undertake maintenance, sanitation and other services which account for most of the complaints which lead to protest action. Reintroduce reasonable contingency fees.
One thousand dollars per term will not bankrupt even the poorest of parents. Reintroduce these fees in partnership with PTAs, the old student associations and the government, and many of the existing grouses will be fixed.
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