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School building in a mess: pressure for 'Diego' pupils

By Aabida Allaham aabida.allaham@trinidadexpress.com

CHILD labour, promiscuity and crime are just some of the ills pupils at the Diego Martin North Secondary School are exposed to being out of school, says Member of Parliament for Diego Martin Central, Dr Amery Browne.

He said the children are currently roaming the streets unsupervised because classes are almost non-existent. "If children are in school and have proper activities these things won't be allowed to take place," he said.

Browne was explaining his reasoning behind the issuing of a statement to the media yesterday accusing the Ministry of Education of neglecting and mismanaging the education of hundreds of children at the Diego Martin North Secondary School.

"These children have fallen through the cracks, and they don't mind because they are happy to have days off from school ... the teachers themselves have also had a fairly easy schedule," he said via telephone.

In the statement, Browne said it was "disgraceful and completely unacceptable" that classes at the school were operating on a rotation basis. Furthermore, he said the new administration has been in office for two-and-a-half years and have not lived up to its mandate.

"The current weekly schedule of classes is even worse than the pre-existing shift system, and tragically the students have been rostered in this manner since the start of the school term, with no solution from the Ministry of Education," the statement added.

According to the schedule, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, classes are held for pupils in forms one and four. The forms two and three have classes on Thursday and Fridays, while the form five pupils have classes from Monday to Friday.

Browne believes this situation "is the result of the Ministry of Education's massive overcrowding of the school, and of an inadequate supply of teachers".

Additionally, he said the prefabricated units once used to house the children "have been allowed to deteriorate completely, and there are currently no available classrooms for the simultaneous tuition of all the students".

As a result, he is demanding the ministry provide immediate accommodation for the proper tuition of all the pupils, and that the Government conducts an immediate investigation into the whereabouts and social circumstances of the children of this school on the many weeks-days when they have not been allowed inside of any classroom.

Browne said Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and himself will visit the school this morning at 10 a.m. to look at plight of the pupils.

Also commenting on the issue was president of the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA), Zena Ramatali, who has been lobbying for the construction of a new school for the past three years.

"We are very concerned about this situation; it has been going on for far too long. I don't know why reconstruction of that school did not begin when the construction of the Aranjuez North (Secondary School), and Five Rivers (Secondary School) started three years ago," she said.

Ramatali said she is hoping that the ministry "will put the prefabricated buildings in place" so that the children will be able to resume regular classes in the second term.

Currently, the school is made up of prefabricated buildings and its original structure, but according to the NPTA president, everything is falling apart.

"Our hearts go out to them; they have to write the same exams as all the other children in all the other schools."

Contacted for a comment on the issue, the Ministry of Education issued a statement refuting Browne's allegations.

The statement said they met with "members of the school's PTA, administrative staff and other members of the ministry" and agreed on the implementation of the rotation system as a temporary measure to facilitate the demolition of the old prefabricated building and the construction of 14 new pre-engineered classrooms.

The statement further added that measures have been put in place to address the infrastructure issues affecting the school.

In fact, the ministry said demolition of the old temporary structure, under the management of the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL), has been completed.

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