Education Ministry’s maintenance lesson
If, every year, the same problem occurs on the same scale, then it is safe to assume that the problem is not being solved.
And so, on the first day of the new school year, news reporters always know they will be covering stories about a significant number of schools which have failed to open. Moreover, the reporters also know in advance what the causes will be: unrepaired infrastructure, pigeon or bat droppings and non-functional washrooms.
Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh, in defending this annual event, noted only 16 out of 900 schools didn’t open, adding that 100 schools in Trinidad and Tobago were over 100 years old and 200 over 50 years. At least the Education Ministry’s public relations department has upgraded this excuse, since in 2007, then-education minister Hazel Manning explained unopened schools by announcing that “many schools” were “over 50 years old”. What the ministry’s communications officers have failed to note, however, is that not all of the 16 problem schools are so aged.
In any case, about 6,000 pupils have had their education delayed because of the ministry’s inability to solve this maintenance challenge. Primary school principals in a statement placed the blame squarely on the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL), describing the EFCL’s 2013 programme as an “unmitigated disaster”. Even if this is hyperbole, the EFCL is certainly falling short of the mandate for which it was created in 2005, which was to bypass the Education Ministry’s red tape in order to ensure speedy and more efficient maintenance of the nation’s schools.
Admittedly, some improvement has occurred, but some of that improvement is only apparent since the EFCL sometimes claims success in repairs on schools at the opening of the academic year, only to have these same schools experiencing problems within months or even weeks. It is also significant the ministry has not given specific reasons for the failure to repair the 16 unopened schools. Was it lack of manpower? Equipment? Poor co-ordination between principals and the EFCL?
Whatever it is, the core problem seems to be poor time management. It appears as though most school repairs and rehabilitation are done only during the long vacation. But why should this be? Minor repairs can be carried out throughout the year without disrupting classes, and more extensive work could surely be done after 3 p.m. and on the weekends when pupils are gone. Then the vacation weeks would be reserved solely for major renovations.
Such an approach would surely reduce, and even eliminate, the number of schools remaining closed in September. Apparently, though, the Education Ministry and its EFCL handmaiden, like parents buying school supplies, also suffer from the syndrome of the last-minute Trini.