For the past three years, the Amerindian community of Princeville in Region Eight had to make do with one teacher who taught classes from the nursery level up to Grade Six.
Sherlock Ogle has to teach 39 children and complete all the administrative work as he is also the acting head of the school, one source told Stabroek News. Paid a paltry salary that barely covers his trips to Mahdia to submit his monthly reports, Ogle tries his best but also has other duties and is a final year student on the Cyril Potter College of Education’s (CPCE) distance training programme.
“He is not (a) superhero, the nursery school children need individual attention and they need to be taught to write and every other thing. If he spends time with them, what will happen to the other children,” one resident questioned.
Residents yesterday said that for years, the school has only had one teacher. One woman, Shevone Williams, said that she has grown up in the village and she is now 28-years-old and for long as she knows, the school has only had one teacher. She said that due to this state of affairs, she was forced to send her children out of the community for school because regardless of how well intentioned the teacher might be, it is impossible for him to provide adequate teaching to the children.
Stabroek News was told that Ogle has been at the school for eight years but it was three years ago that he became solo when another male teacher, who was the only teacher for some time, was interdicted from duty following allegations of impropriety.
Now, Ogle has to do everything including management of the school, residents said. A source close to the teacher said that some parents are complaining that their children are not being properly taught but pointed out that there is so much the teacher can do and no more. Of the 39 students, about 15 are in the nursery class.
Last week, parents, upset that their appeals for another teacher to be assigned to the school went unheeded, protested for three days and gave regional officials one week to appoint another teacher. Yesterday, some parents told Stabroek News that following the protest, regional officials asked them to submit the names of three prospective teachers from the village and said this could result in at least one or all three being appointed according to their suitability.
The parents warned that they are not going to sit quietly as they have done in the past when “promises and more promises” were made. “We give the region one week to find a teacher or else we would be protesting again, this thing getting too overbearing now,” one resident told Stabroek News. This newspaper was told that following a meeting with residents, the names were selected and these would be submitted to the regional administration today.
“We are calling for a female teacher at the school because the young children need that kind of motherly love and it is hard for Sir Sherlock because he also has to deal with the other children,” one parent said.
According to the parent, should one of the younger children have an accident in class “like urinating or messing themselves” the teacher at times is forced to call on a female child from Grade Six for assistance particularly if it is a little girl who needs to be cleaned.
When contacted yesterday, Minister of Education Priya Manickchand said she was not aware of the circumstances at the school and she was awaiting answers from her staff. However, she said, the situation at the school represents “the vicious cycle that we see in far-flung places.” Manickchand stated that the ministry has a white paper titled the ‘Hinterland Education Improvement Programme’ which identifies all of “these issues as problems that need solutions.”
“What we are presently doing is consulting in the communities to hear what would be (the) best solutions for them,” the minister said. However, she noted that the solution would not be the same across the regions as what might work in one region may not work in another.
Meantime, Stabroek News was told that sometimes other children have to be left to oversee the younger children whenever Ogle has to leave them to attend to another class. If one subject should last for 20 minutes, the teacher can only give that class five minutes because he is always rushing to attend to another class. It was also pointed out that when a Grade Six pupil has to be asked to assist with taking care of a younger child, their studies are being disrupted.
It was also pointed out that teachers would not want to travel to the area to work because of the inadequate accommodation. While there is a two apartment building, it is not furnished.
Ogle, who is from the village, lives in one of the apartments since his home is about a mile from the school. When he moved in the building it was furnished with a gas stove, two chairs, two wood-ants eaten bed frames and two mattresses. “No kitchen utensils, no gas cylinder nothing,” one resident said while adding that it was the teacher who had to provide the other furnishing to make the apartment habitable.
In addition, apart from his teaching duties, Ogle has to submit monthly reports to the region. He is also a final year student of CPCE’s distance training programme and would have to make monthly trips to Mahdia for classes. Further, when he has to attend meetings, the school doors have to be closed.
“Many times he would write letters to the regional officials stating what is needed but sometimes he wouldn’t even get an answer or at other times is just promises, promises,” one source said.
Stabroek News was also told that the teacher does not receive travel allowances even though he has to travel to Mahdia to submit his monthly report and also to access his salary. Because of the deplorable state of the road, it costs $20,000 for a return trip to Mahdia and even though he sometimes tries to submit the report when his salary is available, it does not always work out. The teacher works for a mere $46,000 a month and if it was not for the generosity of people in the village who would sometimes assist him getting to and from Mahdia, many months he would be unable to survive.
And even though faced with all of these difficulties, the teacher, according to a source, still does his best. It was stated that in 2013, he spent hours with the Grade Six students, sometimes in the evening at the expense of his reports and other chores and the school did its best that year at the Grade Six Assessment exams. The two children received 453 and 482 marks.
However, he was unable to repeat the feat last year because the work load was taking a toll on him and the other children in the school also suffered. He also “nearly get he self in trouble because he submit reports late…”