Literacy priority in policy Education Ministry

POSTED: 10/9/12 1:13 PM

St. Maarten – The central committee meeting called by the United People’s party (UP) faction on September 26 for education minister to explain her present educational policy and the policy on youth and sports ended with more questions than answers yesterday afternoon. Most of the questions posed to Minister of Education, Culture Youth and Sport Silveria Jacobs centered on her vision for the ministry but no mention was even made of sports.
Originally set for 2:00 pm, the meeting started five minutes late and then was adjourned after two minutes based on the recommendation of Parliament President drs. Rodolphe Samuel for a 90 minute adjournment for lunch.
When the meeting was reconvened, Jacobs and her executive assistant Anenda Zaandam and acting secretary general Quincy Harrigan faced a barrage of questions from the UP faction first.

Illiteracy
Tackling illiteracy as stated in the governing program presented at the opening of the parliamentary year has the full attention of drs. Gracita Arrindell (UP). Arrindell said that she would like to further scrutinize how the minister intends to accomplish this considering that illiteracy among the local population is widespread.
“If we have a society where the number of illiterate persons is growing then we have a problem in terms of employers who want to employ our own people but can’t. If we from government do not identify and acknowledge that we have a problem at this level then we will continue importing skilled labor, if we don’t identify the source of illiteracy on this island,” Arrindell noted.
She requested information on the “percentage of persons who could hardly read and write, hardly count and what the minister intends to do to increase literacy.”
On the issue of compulsory education she queried how many children of illegal immigrants were entered into this system and whether the minister looked at “structurally introducing a meal program” in the schools based on international models and human rights.
Dr. Lloyd Richardson of the National Alliance (NA) faction wondered what links the laws on compulsory education had to a school feeding program as suggested by Arrindell. To implement this would open a Pandora’s Box on an already burdened infrastructure, Dr. Richardson said.
Arrindell requested statistics on how the largest portion of the nation’s budget was spent on various education initiatives. She highlighted the total amount of study financing granted, what were the different disciplines students pursued and the countries that students were being sent to.
“Are these students provided with a proper mentor and supervision? What are your future plans for study financing? Describe the current relationship between the ministry and S-4, whether S-4 is still functioning and provide information on students switching studies,” Arrindell asked.
She further questioned the reason for a delay in construction of the M. Geneviève de Weever School and Seventh Day Adventist School.
“Who were the contractors and what were the construction costs of both schools?” Arrindell asked.
This was later debunked by Dr. Lloyd Richardson who said that answers to questions of this nature should be sought at the agencies financing the projects. Both schools began construction under the former UP/DP coalition government.
The former chair lady of parliament also requested an update on when the remaining public schools would be upgraded.

USM
Silvia Olivacce-Meyers (UP) suggested that government have a say in what programs are offered at the University of St. Martin and be fully represented on the tertiary institution’s board.
“Government should increase the university budget to at least 2 million guilders over the next few years based on the university’s performance,” she added.

Public Education Services
Parliamentarian Jules James (UP) sought clarity on the status of the investigation at Public Education Services. He requested copies of the letter that was issued to division head Glenderlin Davis-Holiday stating that she remains home until the investigation was concluded as well as Davis-Holiday’s rebuttal letter to the perceived sanction.
“We need to know what is being investigated. Is it the non-payment of teachers and unpaid vacation allowance?” James treaded cautiously when he said that based on unsubstantiated reports, “it has the semblance to what could be termed as victimization of our young professionals.”
At one point, James was interrupted by Dr. Lloyd Richardson who criticized James for asking about the inquiry since the minister has stated publicly on previous occasions the matter was a “sensitive one” and she would await the outcome of the month long query before making any further pronouncements. Samuel restored order and invited James to continue.
James also questioned what role the ministry foresees the St. Maarten House in The Hague playing in the future with respect to study financing and assistance of students.
He also wanted answers on the procedure for the appointment of school management personnel, what are the present vacancies, which positions have since been filled, on what dates and at which institutions?
The minister was also asked to give an update on the appointment of a new secretary general for the ministry.

Culture and Constitution Day
Parliamentarian Dr. Ruth Douglass (UP) was the only parliamentarian to focus heavily on the cultural aspect of the minister’s portfolio. She demanded why after two years of constitutional status, the government could not manage to make Wednesday a national holiday.
“How come it is not a national holiday as yet so that we can educate our children on the importance of this day? If constitution day has been for all of the people why are only civil servants celebrating. Just like civil servants can get days off, we can see to it that others get it too,” Douglass stated.
“Education is the most important link between all ministries. What is your policy on education in reference to nation building, what are your plans in making a clear distinction in educating children to identify our culture? Many different activities are being celebrated on St. Maarten that do not belong to us,” Douglass said, citing Halloween as an example of a cultural activity that is celebrated by the majority of schools on St. Maarten.
She also requested information on the criteria for foreigners to obtain a job in local schools.

Intra-regional study
Dr. Lloyd Richardson suggested that comparative studies be done with regard to cost and quality of education in the region as opposed to sending students to traditional hubs like the Netherlands.
He believes that if students are steered in the direction of regional institutions it would reduce travel expenses and the dropout rate of students and stimulate more students to return home because they would not have the immediate integration into other societies as they now do in the Netherlands.
Independent member Romain Laville shared similar sentiments, adding that government should start looking closer to home for tertiary institution. The cost incurred for sending one student to the Netherlands could fund more than a dozen students at a Caribbean institution, Laville said. He revealed that he had been in discussions with the Rutgers University in the United States who has expressed an interest in partnering with St. Maarten to reduce the tuition of local students who are accepted there.
“It will be a similar arrangement like the one we have with Tallahassee,” Laville said, also alluding to a state college in Dominica that offers an associate’s degree to students who are then allowed to complete their education at the prestigious Monroe College in the United States.
Laville stated that he was concerned about the “tender age” at which local students leave these shores to pursue higher education in remote locations.
“What is the policy to determine whether an individual is mature enough to leave the island?”
John Leonard (UP) questioned how many students were actually being sent abroad to study tourism.

Diversity in educational disciplines
Independent parliamentarian Patrick Illidge said that while the minister had recently assumed the portfolio of education minister, she had to do her part in adjusting several policies. The policies should reflect the vision of the nation, he charged.
“Your policies must reflect the people, date and time in which we are living. Don’t tell me about outdated policies. Our vision must be clear, as a government we are in charge not policy makers. Front Street is full of jewelry stores. Have we every given a scholarship to a watch maker or stone setter to set stones? Pick sense out of nonsense. I want my government to get real. In your policies adjust them. I don’t want to hear people in government telling me about policies, antiquated policies,” Illidge stated.
Leonard said that as much as he hated to admit it, he had to agree with Illidge on the establishment of a trade school. “You can be intelligent with your hands,” he stated.
The parliamentarians were reminded by George Pantophlet (NA).that a polytechnic school was currently being constructed in the Cay Hill area and that an active SBO program was in place already.

Juvenile delinquency
Pantophlet said that that he was more concerned with the root causes of the social problems on St. Maarten.
As the population grows, so do the social problems of the island. The behavior at the school and the language is as such that it is scary situation; do we have enough social workers at the schools to deal with these situations? If you can have consensual sex at the age of 12 then why can’t you finish school at 16,” he suggested that the minister do more research on these acute problems and also clarify the age limit at which someone is legally required to leave secondary institutions.
With his statements laced with cynicism, Hyacinth Richardson (NA) chimed in: “Our students have not failed us the persons who were elected to represent our children have failed us. I was always against students being put out of school for whatever reasons without any alternatives. Today we are reaping the benefits of that.”
Pantophlet also questioned whether any so called undocumented schools still existed on the island now that compulsory education was in place and why St. Maarten did not possess more local teachers.
Parliamentarians Leroy DeWeever (DP) and Louie Laviest (NA) were absent from the meeting with notice.
Following the first round of questions, the minister requested a five minute break to confer with her support staff after which she indicated that she would need no less than a week to respond to the questions posed by the parliamentarians, many of which required accurate statistical data.
“Seeing that the agenda was so broad we came to listen. Your questions have merit.”

Jacobs’ vision
The only thing the minister came prepared to do, it appeared was to speak on her vision of education. She described the (new) ministry of education, in particular as a “high performing and dynamic organization…. to develop an intelligent, versatile, productive and well-rounded individual.”
“It is a priority to see some of these things change and to see education meet the needs of society,” she added, indicating that a the ministry plans to set national standards, raise awareness and pride in being a St. Maartener, develop a youth leadership-entrepreneurship program and promote the development of performance, literary and visual arts using the schools as a springboard.
“a language policy and literacy development has my priority. A report on the status of education should be received soon and although the revised list (of professionals needed) is done in collaboration with the business community, the majority of study financing applicants is not applying for the hands on job,” the minister concluded.
Samuel closed the meeting indicating that he would inform when the minister would be recalled to parliament to respond to the questions.

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