Jacobs begins school tour

POSTED: 06/1/12 12:35 PM

Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Silveria Jacobs (back right) stands with Principal of the Oranje School Kay Linda Phillips and students of the school during her visit on Thursday. (Valerie Brown photo)

St. Maarten – Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Silveria Jacobs began a tour of the primary schools on Thursday. The tour is part of the minister’s familiarization with the workings of the ministry and the sector that she is now charged with managing. All but two departments within the ministry have already been visited because one was “in transition” and the other was busy with other meetings.

“I look forward to good cooperation from all levels of the ministry,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs wants to be updated in a broad sense about the various issues facing the schools during the tour. Once the issues have been inventorized the minister intends to work with the Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (Vromi) and the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labor to rectify the issues so that schools start on a fresh foot in the 2012/2013 school year. There is already a verbal commitment from the responsible ministers to provide assistance.
“My goal is to utilize all resources within the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport to provide each child on St. Maarten with the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential, while providing a well rounded education geared towards the whole child. So that’s where you will see the integration of culture and sports and making we are able to produce productive members within our society,” the minister said.

Jacobs has gotten support for her goal from the department heads in her ministry and she hopes the rest of the community will “co-sign” on achieving the goal.

Teacher absenteeism

Jacobs is also planning to tackle teacher absenteeism in the coming using her experience from the operational level – working in schools.

“We have to deal with some of the sources of the problem before attacking. When I say the source of the problem, one of the things I mentioned in my meetings with department heads is that we would like to have accountability at the operational level but it’s something we need to model at the two levels above. I am not going to expect teachers to be able to function optimally in unsanitary, unsafe and unreasonable conditions. We have to look at and analyze the sources of the problems that are leading to the high absenteeism,” the minister said.

One of the main causes of absenteeism is illness and Jacobs believes that a teacher substation program and having teacher’s assistants is a good way to ensure that students have continuous lessons, even when someone is ill.

“Many teachers are burdened by the new system and feeling unable to cope with the level of stress and everybody knows children, nowadays are not the same. We have to move with the times and if you’re going to have an education that is the cost of a BMW and you can’t afford it, then you need to re-evaluate what parts we can take from a Toyota or Honda and use. That is what we are basically doing. We’re looking at what can be kept and what needs to be changed,” Jacobs said.

In order to ensure that there’s input in the changes Jacobs wants to have a teacher’s summit before the end of the school year, where educators can freely talk about their challenges and have a brainstorming session about how these can be tackled. It will also give the ministry a chance to directly tell teachers about the work that they are doing.

“When they are done telling us what they think we should do, then we will tell them where we are, where we may be on the same line and maybe where we need to re-evaluate and change things, because I believe that you will be able to effectuate change better when you have the people who need to be carry out the change involved,” the minister said.

Jacobs also stressed on Wednesday that while she is not a sheriff, she will expect educators to be accountable for what they do and that government will provide them with what they need to function.

Continuity

Jacobs also announced on Wednesday that she is “not about changing anything that is good and right for the country.” That was the core of her message to the civil servants in the ministry. In reply they assured her that they are willing to also create space for her to have input on the ongoing projects.

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