Alliance for Change (AFC) activists yesterday joined forces with the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) of the St. John’s Secondary School to stage a protest in front of the Ministry of Education on Brickdam as part of a continuing campaign for a new school building.
The protesters numbered about 15 persons, who withstood the mid-morning heat to send a message to Minister of Education Priya Manickchand as well as the PPP/C administration.
The displaced students are currently being accommodated at a community centre at Den Amstel, West Coast Demerara, where they have been for the last two years. Parents and students began protesting on Wednesday last after they were informed of the intended plan to have the school phased out. Yesterday’s protest marked the fourth action taken by the parents.
Natasha Sam, a mother who participated in the protest, said she was informed that her son and other students will be placed in other schools while the present school will be phased out in the near future. She voiced her displeasure at the ministry’s intention to have the students phased out. “My son is in grade eight and he is doing well and the teachers are very supportive,” the woman said.
Another mother who was present also voiced her concerns. She said parents do not want their children to be placed in any other schools since the students from other schools discriminate against St. John’s students.
PTA head Janice Grant also expressed disgust at the situation being faced by students. She noted that the school caters for slow learners and if the students will be placed in other schools it could affect their academic development, since they will be exposed to a different level of work and a strange environment. The school, Grant says, now effectively provides for the students by laying a foundation which equips them to pursue education at technical institutes or other schools after the completion of their secondary education.
Grant said she needs an early response from the Minister of Education in addressing the situation, since parents are still awaiting word from anybody in authority. She noted also that the Regional Education Officer of Region Three had promised a response but to date they are still waiting.
AFC member of the Region Three Democratic Council, Harry Narine Deokinanan told Stabroek News that the regional administration and the Ministry of Education have neglected the children and the parents of St. John’s Secondary School. Deokinanan said the needed renovation of the school building was raised over two years ago and was ignored.
He also voiced concern about students being placed in a pavilion which doesn’t provide adequate shelter during rainy conditions. This concern, Deokinanan said, was raised twice by him at the Regional Democratic Council’s meetings and the Regional Chairman had promised a school for the children “sometime.” “I am asking, when is the sometime? When is the sometime?” he questioned.
“The AFC is calling on the minister to show that you care now… show that you care and help the children to get a new building,” Deokinanan stated.
Meanwhile, activist Freddie Kissoon, who was part of the protest, said he was happy to aid in the protest while noting how important education is to him. “I come from very, very desperate origins, never went to high school, but I studied, got my certificates and never looked back… so the avenue for individual progress and individual survival is through education,” Kissoon said.
Kissoon further stated that he immediately answered the call to participate in the protest after recognising the dilemma of the students who are being placed in a make-shift environment.
AFC executive Neilson McKenzie said the plight of the St John’s students highlights the uncaring nature of the current administration. He said the budget for education was never cut but children continue to be neglected.
Michael Carrington, also from the AFC, joined in supporting the parents at the protest exercise and expressed hope that the minister of education would address the issue and take steps towards the construction of a new building.