I recently did a column in the Kaieteur News on school placements at the primary level in Guyana. Now I am penning this letter to the Stabroek News. My intention is to access all the private media houses with a plea to investigate this system. As I appealed in my column, I am appealing now to the readers and editorial board of the Stabroek News. The media, opposition parties and other stakeholders need to probe this system of public school placement at the primary and nursery levels.
I will pen a separate letter to the Red Thread organization seeking their intervention because many single mothers have to face financial pain trying to get their children to a school far from where they live and work. My column and this letter were driven by the desperation of two mothers who work one block from a school and were not given that school. One mother told me she didn’t mind the placement to a school that wasn’t of her choice, what she resented was the fact that other children were parachuted from far-off areas and landed at the school that she requested
In my media career, I have relentlessly tracked down this school placement nightmare beginning with the Hoyte administration right up to the present time. From 1990 to the present time, I may have dealt with over a hundred requests to investigate insensitive placements. I doubt former Minister Shaik Baksh would deny we had battles over this. His Permanent Secretary, Pulandar Kandhi was kind enough to assist me with a particular request from a distraught parent. My dispute with Minister Henry Jeffrey reached the Office of the Ombudsman. Earlier this year I called the Minister’s mother, Mrs Manickchand, over a transfer.
Under all the education ministers, there is a mystery that needs to be explained – what are the criteria for placement when a child leaves nursery and is ready for the primary level? Here is just one example of my experience with parents’ cries. A child lived at Station Street but was refused Stella Maris and sent to a school on David Street, Kitty. Station Street is just a minute’s walk to Stella Maris. Now if you can send a child that lives next to Stella Maris then what criteria are you using for entry to Stella Maris?
Stella Maris is located next to St Joseph’s High School, making it an institution that sits on Vlissengen Road bordering Kitty. The streets near to Stella Maris would be Lamaha, Station, Dowding, Sandy Babb, among others. Yet my research shows that few children from Kitty attend Stella Maris. I know students from Prashad Nagar who attended Stella Maris and whose parents do not live anywhere near to Stella Maris. How then did they get into that institution?
When the scandal of school placement aroused public passions about a decade ago, people wrote to the newspapers citing the fancy cars that drove up and let off the children at those sought after schools. Many opined that the owners live and work far away from these primary schools.
To bring an end to this matter, in my column I suggested that an injunction be filed on behalf of a grieving mother with the request that the court order the list of placements for the sought after primaries so we can ascertain what criteria were used.
But do we have to go that far? I call upon the ministry to present the list to a group of journalists or opposition parties so we can research it. Surely, if the ministry has nothing to hide and the placements are perfectly logical then let us bring the placement curiosity to an end. I would volunteer my time to walk all over Region 4 and check the place of residence and employment of parents.
Finally, in doing the research this week on the issue, persons in the ministry have pointed me to a possible conflict of interest involving the Minister and her mother. The Minister’s mother is a senior Education Officer and has jurisdiction over high school placements. I don’t know if a conflict of interest exists. A mother is entitled to work at a ministry her daughter heads.
But would it not be a wiser thought that in order to avoid exaggerated opinions and unfair comments that the mother be placed in a less public domain and given another jurisdiction? I guess this all depends on one’s philosophy of life.