There are two particularly smart looking schools on the West Coast Demerara – one at Greenwich Park and one at Leonora; smart looking but not smartly built.
The Leonora Secondary School has a section that is air conditioned, possibly its computer laboratory. Several AC units are visible on the building from the road and one imagines that there is a pretty hefty electricity bill during the months when school is in session. This would, of course, add to costs to run the school. Of course both this building and the one at Greenwich Park are fairly new.
A look at other schools on the West Demerara at Windsor Forest and Blankenburg, for example, and for that matter many city schools tell a tale of a lack of maintenance. In fact, time and again over the years there have been complaints, protests and stand-offs between parents and the Ministry of Education over the rundown condition of schools. The trend over the years has been no maintenance then a massive rebuilding of the school when it is no longer habitable. An example would be the St Mary’s Primary School in Brickdam. Once owned by the Roman Catholic Church in Guyana, that school was well kept. After it was taken over by the government, no further attention was paid to its upkeep and it fell into serious disrepair. Some years ago, the US Army rebuilt the entire school from scratch during its annual outreach mission here. The old design disappeared and in its stead are two ‘barn-like’ single-flat structures for which the builders took much flack. Still, students had a brand new school within which to dwell. Sadly, however, there are signs of neglect and it’s obvious that in the not too distant future there will be need for either a new school or massive repairs to what currently exists.
The Diamond, East Bank Demerara school, with its modern computer laboratory is being touted as a model school. But how much money is set aside for its maintenance? What will it look like in 10 or 20 years?
There is no doubt that money is being spent on education but there is a decided lack of foresight, as in many other sectors. For instance, given the high and rising cost of electricity and Guyana’s current focus on low carbon development, why aren’t new schools being built to use solar energy?
Renovation of one of the lecture theatres at the University of Guyana was recently completed, including the roof which had to be completely redone. It was an opportunity for perhaps the piloting of solar energy at the university, yet it was not done, notwithstanding the fact that although solar panels might be costly in the beginning, there would be massive savings in the long run if the ministry moved educational institutions off the national grid. And apart from saving money, there’s also the saving of the environment, which if one listens while government speaks out of the other side of its mouth, is what it would like to do. For instance, a recent workshop conducted under the auspices of USAID, saw a team of experts from the US discussing using clean energy, such as solar, in local health facilities. But the talk about using clean energy has been going on for too long; there should be more ‘doing’ by now, and the education sector is as good a place as any to start. Government needs to wrap its mind around building smart schools that will not be costly to upkeep, ergo solar energy; formulate plans for their maintenance; and ensure that they are well kept. Otherwise the education budget will continue to go towards rebuilding schools rather than actually educating children.