Every year, without fail, a matter of days before the new academic year begins, teams of builders can be seen frantically trying to remedy and repair school houses defective in one way or another, for the start of classes. Work, inevitably, would extend beyond the time left before the beginning of the school year, and the Ministry of Education or the affected school itself would simply announce that there would be a delay of a few days ‒ or in some instances a few weeks ‒ before the start of classes. There are, too, other oddities that characterize the very last days before the start of a new school year, like the sight of cleaning crews belatedly labouring over the cleaning of the buildings. There had been a period too when some schools had been afflicted by an acute shortage of furniture (we are unsure as to whether or not that misfortune still obtains) so that parents were required to chip in with a chair or bench here or there so as to ensure that their children receive classroom instructions in some measure of comfort. That too, we considered an anomaly that bordered on the absurd.
The first thing that should be said about these shortcomings is that in an education system which is free, we have come to accept, one imagines, that in the circumstances, glitches like some of those we encounter will continue to rear their heads.
What is a good deal more difficult to accept is that the challenges associated with the delivery of education must, year in, year out, reduce us to a level of operational incompetence that renders us incapable of having a number of schools fit and ready to deliver the curriculum. This reduces a critical area of our education administration to what we in Guyana commonly describe as ‘bare slackness.’
Whether it is the Ministry of Education or a Regional Administration which is responsible in any given instance for the rehabilitation and cleaning of schools, even making allowances for logistical challenges, you might think that over so many years we would have sufficiently rehearsed such assignments as to eventually get them right. Since the Ministry and the Regions have a shared interest in ensuring that those tasks are completed efficiently and within the requisite time frame, one might ask whether there isn’t or ought not to be some measure of collaboration between the two entities, some kind of sitting down together to ensure that work on the rehabilitation and/or cleaning of school buildings is completed at least a few days before the start of the school year.
For the Ministry of Education to find itself, repetitively, having to postpone the re-opening of some schools for days or weeks on account of considerations that have to do with the completion of repairs and renovation or cleaning bears a striking resemblance to an abandonment of responsibility, bearing in mind the possible implications of denying children the benefit of a portion of the school year. There is simply no good excuse, year in, year out, for that kind of occurrence.
To shift, momentarily, to the issue of the controversial Kato Secondary School we find it hard not to be amazed by the disclosure by Mr Vibert Welch, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, that furniture can only become available to the Kato Secondary School “when the roads have dried” (it would be instructive to learn how the challenges of moving furniture over bad roads in inclement weather compare with the movement of fuel, engines et al over pretty much the same type of terrain in the same weather), whenever that may be. If it is the sort of excuse that may satisfy the bureaucratic purposes of the Ministry, it is, in reality a thoroughly unacceptable response to a situation in which we now have no clear idea as to when the children at the Kato Secondary School will start their school year.
In passing, when account is taken as well of the Permanent Secretary’s disclosure that equipment for the solar powering of the school also remains to be transported to Kato (he didn’t say whether or not this could be air lifted), one wonders just when the movement of this equipment will begin so that teaching and learning can start in earnest at Kato.
Mind you, no one is denying for a moment that the logistics of such an exercise are not challenging. It is just that the excuses for failure often appear sufficiently packaged and ready as to cause one to ponder their veracity. It is not uncommon, after all, for governments, in their tendering of excuses, to be concerned much more with convenience than with correctness.
To return to the coastland, as late as last Sunday, there were areas on the East Coast (and elsewhere, for all we know) where schoolhouses were being cleaned and ‘aired out,’ most of them having been locked up for the better part of two months. Again, one wonders whether the cleaning of schools prior to the start of the new academic year ought not to be subjected to some sort of simple scheduling rather than what so often appears to be the frantic last-minute rush that characterizes these exercises. Is it not that the persistence of this sort of nonsense prevails because we accommodate, invariably without murmur, what is sometimes the cant that is fed to us as reasons for unacceptable underperformance? And are we not entitled to wonder aloud as to when huge areas of the state bureaucracy are going to begin to take their responsibilities (in this instance in the critical area of education delivery) more seriously?
And is it not, in fact, true, that year in, year out, the absence of earnest attention to the task of readying schoolhouses for the timely start of the new academic year amounts to a callous abdication of responsibility for which those responsible should be required to answer?