Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What’s the bottom line on school repairs?

Express editorial logo454

Mark Fraser

 Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh has announced ambitious plans for the repair of schools to be carried out during the vacation—no fewer than 300 projects to be completed over the next two months.

Teachers, parents, pupils and the general public must hope that adequate financial, managerial and operational resources have been acquired and committed to the end of making a brighter day of schools’ reopening come September. The Education Ministry has embarked on a “mammoth undertaking” of bringing more than 300 schools, most of them 50-plus years old, back to occupational readiness. Dr Gopeesingh is also claiming to be “working along…and moving side by side” with the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) and the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA).

The minister’s upbeat approach to this challenge would be infectious, were it not for the annual bitter complaints and protests when, for whatever reasons, some school repair works fail to finish on time. In any such  eventuality, he cannot depend on support from TTUTA and NPTA. With such annual experience as a guide, Dr Gopeesingh might more prudently be hedging his bets about the success of this “mammoth” programme. Yet Minister Gopeesingh failed to identify the improved capacities to be deployed in 2014 which, in previous years, might not have been available.

The figures he did provide, however, may reveal the secret of this seemingly fantastic goal. Last year, according to the minister, the Education Facilities Co., completed 190 projects over the vacation period. That works out to an average of 23 projects per week. This year, Minister Gopeesingh is predicting a 40 per cent increase in that rate, with an average of 37 projects being started and finished every week. Moreover, he boasted that, since May 2010 when the People’s Partnership came to office, 4,095 repairs and maintenance projects have been done at a cost of just under $576 million.

 Since Trinidad and Tobago only has about 600-plus primary and secondary schools, however, it seems that Dr Gopeesingh’s tally is based on multiple repairs within one building. Thus, if he is including changing washers on leaking faucets as a “repair project”, then his amazing figures begin to look less amazing and even achievable.

 At the same time, these figures beg the question as to why the repair and maintenance projects are increasing. If, with just over 600 school buildings in the country, 190 projects were done last year, why are there even more projects to be done this year?

 Perhaps, once this cycle of repairs and maintenance is completed, Minister Gopeesingh in 2015 will be boasting about fewer projects and lower costs. Then again, 2015 is an election year, so statistical legerdemain and expenditures are probably inevitable.