Amidst its struggle to maintain and educate an overcrowded school the Lancaster Secondary yesterday welcomed a donation of six computers worth more than half a million dollars.
The computers, donated by US-based Guyanese Bobby Deonarine, were handed over to the school by Dr. Randy Persaud on behalf of President Bharrat Jagdeo.
President Jagdeo, according to an Office of the President (OP) Media Advisory, should have been visiting the Mahaica location to present the computers to the school. Persaud, who said he was the Political Affairs Assistant to the President, said that Jagdeo was unwell and could not attend.
Many students, according to Head Teacher Dolores Benjamin, will be able to access a computer for the first time in their lives. Two terms ago, she explained, the school received two computers through OP. Lancaster Secondary currently has eight computers, excluding one in the Head Teacher’s office.
The computers are being housed in the school’s Home Economics room, Benjamin said, and there are no immediate plans for the construction of an Information Technology (IT) laboratory. The computers are not networked nor do they have internet access but there are long term plans to implement these, Benjamin explained. Each of the six computers donated by Deonarine came with printers, speakers and other key accessories like a mouse and keyboards.
On the school’s staff of 19 teachers there are two who teach IT. However, one of these teachers is currently at the University of Guy-ana and most of the pressure will fall on the other, Benjamin explained.
She further noted that already smaller organizations within the community have requested permission to use the computers. “We will have no problem allowing them to use the computers,” Benjamin said, “because it was given to us by the community and we have to help them as well but it will be done on our terms.”
Students from Forms 1 to 4, she explained, will be taught IT beginning in September. However, the current Form 5 will be unable to access the subject to do it at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) level since they will not have enough time to cover the syllabus before the examination.
“Definitely we will see to it that the next batch of Fifth Formers who are currently in the Fourth Form will have the option of doing IT at the CSEC level,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin further said that she was appointed as the Head Teacher at Lancaster two school terms ago and there are many things which she plans to improve at the institution. This, she stressed, will be a difficult task given the current condition of the school and any help either governmental or private is welcomed.
In 2007, Benjamin explained, the Lancaster school was changed from a Primary level institution to a Secondary education provider. However, the school was not ready for such a transformation, she opined, since it still is not equipped with a science laboratory nor does it have proper facilities for students.
“This is a D grade school and I will be honest when I tell you that the students who come here are not high performers but still that does not mean that they don’t deserve better,” the Head Teacher stated.
Excluding the Form 5 students currently awaiting examination results, Benjamin told Stabroek News, Lancaster Secondary has a student population of approximately 315. This number will increase by about 200 in September, she said.
During a short tour of the single-building institution Benjamin pointed out that the school sports an open floor layout. Several classes are housed on the ground floor and the others are cramped on the second floor.
The school, according to Lancaster, was originally meant to accommodate 260 students. With the approximate 200 admissions in September the student/teacher ratio will be 27:1. However, because there is no system by which to separate the fifth form class, a teacher will be forced to handle all of them at once.
More space is definitely needed, Benjamin said, but the school is yet to hear definite feedback from the Ministry of Education. There is an empty plot of land, she explained, and it had been previously said that a second building would be added.
At break times, Benjamin further told this newspaper, the washrooms are overcrowded and students must often line up to relieve themselves. Both the male and female washrooms have three stalls and this must service all the students.
There is also a water issue at the institution. There is no external pipe in the school compound and whenever water is needed one must venture into the male or female washroom to get it.
Lancaster Secondary is also not equipped with a proper library. There is a small room, which Benjamin showed this newspaper, that she is hoping to convert into a useable mini-library for students. Because of its size the room may possibly only be used as a storage room for the school’s books.
Students, the Head Teacher also noted, are not the only ones who face these cramped conditions. The 19 teachers have access to a single room. There are some cabinets lining the room’s walls and a single table with benches arranged around it takes up most of the space. Teachers have access to a single toilet which is located in the same cramped room.
“Of course I know we are not the only school which suffers from such conditions,” Benjamin said, “but I am here and I want better for our students and for the staff.”
Since her appointment, Benjamin told Stabroek News, two fund raisers were held but they were not very successful. However, she expressed hope that with the new academic year she will be able to do more for Lancaster Secondary.