Minister urges MPs to write law for Constitution Day

POSTED: 10/23/12 2:52 PM

St. Maarten – Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Minister Silveria Jacobs returned to parliament yesterday to provide insight into her educational policy.
The minister gave a lengthy presentation which addressed questions she had received in the first round of meetings on October 8. Three and a half hours after, the minister still had not moved onto the second agenda point which looks at her youth and sports policy. Chairman Rodolphe Samuel suggested that she be recalled to parliament on November 5 but the minister indicated that she may need some more time to respond the additional questions posed on Monday on issues such as special needs education, school feeding programs, compulsory education and illiteracy.

Constitution Day
Minister Jacobs challenged the parliament to bring legislation to the table, if they want Constitution Day to be made a national holiday soon.
“Vacation days legislation would need to come and that can also come from you, I would call on you the legislators to do so to get Constitution Day.”
She said that her ministry will be doing its part but the role of a parliamentarian is to also make legislation instead of just making suggestions or asking questions.
She added that a number of laws still have to be researched on what economic effect another public holiday would bring and once the Tripartite Body agrees on the day becoming a public holiday it will be presented to parliament for review and ratification.
She cautioned that Parliament should consider the educational as well as socio-economic impact another holiday would bring.
“61 vacation days are already legally in the schools for students. Adding additional public days without removing others that are no longer relevant means that the number of day students is out of schools will increase making it more difficult to meet the standards that we have in the schools at this time,” the minister said.
She said that in terms of increasing cultural awareness, cultural holidays and the island’s heritage are being taught in schools.
“However young people are not actors only of the future but are very much contributing to the cultural development of the country.”
In this regard, the minister plans to establish a youth wing to the Cultural Council in cooperation with the Youth Council. This will also see more involvement of young people in the planning and decision making process on cultural activities which require their participation, the minister believes.
Jules James (UP) questioned whether any policy existed to deal with the needs of autistic children or those with other special needs. This was seconded by Gracita Arrindell (UP) and Dr. Lloyd Richardson (NA).
He suggested that a study be done with regard to special needs children with for instance down syndrome and autism.
“This community is too small to basically handle these situations and that is why people are encouraged to leave the island and we need to facilitate that,” Dr. Richardson said.
The minister indicated that a work group had been established to deal with special needs education.
Referring to the Prince Willem Alexander School, the minister said that “Not only do we have a special education school that is too small but special education is a very expensive form of education.”

Illiteracy
Two weeks ago, Arrindell asked a barrage of questions on the literacy level of the island. She also requested statistics and looked for a correlation of how the implementation of compulsory education may have reduced this.
Jacobs said that in the absence of a research tool to measure literacy, the ministry had relied on the 2011 Census but this does not provide any hard information on the level of illiteracy on the island.
The minister admitted that the Census department was not the adequate place to measure illiteracy but her ministry has chosen to take some of the information from this survey rather than none. In lieu of the Census results, the ministry assessed the level of students leaving primary education to determine the degree to which they are mastering established standards. This is usually done through the exit exam that takes place in group 8, the last year of primary education.
The last Census results in 2001 placed illiteracy at 4. 1 percent.
“If it takes every ten years to measure the literacy in our schools, I want to know the minister’s view on whether 10 years is sufficient? An entire decade means the possibility of losing an entire generation in detecting illiteracy on our island,” Arrindell stated.
Research has not been done into the sources of illiteracy but we do know that immigration plays a role,” the minister said.
Compulsory education was implemented in 2008/2009 and will be in its final stages in 2013/2014.
Based on a report compiled by the Department of Research, Innovation and Policy, the number of undocumented children as of 2011 stood at 325.
“St.Maarten is a small place and we cannot provide for everyone who enters the country. Compulsory education or not I am for every child being educated but we have a system called immigration and it must be done in a controlled manner,” Pantophlet stated.
Absent from yesterday’s meeting were Roy Marlin, Ruth Douglass, Johan Leonard, Louis Laveist.
Although the Parliament started with a quorum of 8 members by the time Jacobs finished her presentation, only 5 parliamentarians excluding the president, were still in the chamber to hear her responses to the issues they had raised.

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