FORUM LOOKS AT EDUCATION CHALLENGES IN ANGUILLA
Education in Anguilla was the subject of a forum at the Orealia Kelly Primary School on Monday evening, December 2. Minister of Education, the Hon Jerome Roberts, who called the forum, said that since taking up office a number of persons had indicated to him that they had concerns about several issues, but he observed that many of them had stayed away now that the opportune time to speak had come. “Needless to say, those of us who are here are interested in seeing our country move forward, and to share our views and concerns, and we are quite thankful for that,” he stated.
“We recognise that the Ministry cannot operate in a vacuum. We depend upon the views of the public to assess what is going on and, as Minister, I thought it was important for us to hear from members of the public what are their views and concerns to enhance our education system.” He was joined in his opening remarks by his Permanent Secretary, Mrs Chanelle Petty Barrett.
The first question was what was being done to develop the preschool system and education in general. Mrs Petty Barrett, the Ministry’s main spokesperson, said there was a five-year strategic development plan in place. The five priorities of that plan were literacy development; improvements in maths, science and technology; institutionalising culture, morals and values; developing the TVET framework; and improving comprehensive secondary education. “The five priorities really span a broad range so within early childhood, we expect that the focus would be on those areas as well,” she explained. “But you should be aware that we are in the process of developing an early childhood policy – and we would have had at least two rounds of consultations already this year. Not only are we looking at policy development, in that particular area, but we are also looking at institutionalising standards for centres that provide early childhood services – both day care and preschool sectors.”
Another question was what technical opportunities were there for primary school students not academically inclined. Mrs Petty Barrett replied: “Our view in relation to the primary sector is that the sector as a whole should work on improving delivery in a way that reaches the children. I know a lot of teachers already know the different methods but, for example, in subjects such as science, we can do a lot of activities – or social studies. We would like to encourage that sort of thing at primary level: that you give the children that opportunity where they are not tied to completing the workbook or writing from the board, but actually engaging in some practical aspect as well.”
Minister Roberts pointed out that the primary level was an area where the Ministry ought to pay more attention. “This feedback is useful and you are quite right,” he told the questioner. “Even with TVET, at the secondary level, we are still in the infancy stage. Once that rolls out it can be used as a pilot in assessing what can be done at the primary level.”
There were also questions about behavioural issues in children at the primary level caused by challenges affecting them – and the need to remove them from the schools to other appropriate places. The Permanent Secretary responded that there was a human resource problem where there were not enough trained teachers at the Emotional and Behavioural Disorder Unit located at The Valley Primary School to deal with those children. One of the questioners suggested a place like Zenaida Haven where the children could be taken as a support mechanism for parents. But the Permanent Secretary pointed that such a place was really for offenders of the law.
The Minister said that the matter was one of the problems facing his Ministry, but that it called for increased financial outlays to create such support institutions. He added that “the same problems being experienced at the primary level were at the secondary level as well, so we have to address them.”
Other views were expressed from the floor about disciplinary matters – and how parents and teachers should respond to that type of behaviour. The particular speaker said there was a lot of anger among students mainly at the comprehensive school. “If you go at Campus B at lunchtime, it is a marketplace,” she stated. “If you see how the children conduct themselves, and how they relate to each other, there is a lot of anger. It means that somebody’s needs are not being met, so I think we really need to do a thorough assessment of the high school. It is the only one we have so we need to make it work…”She also suggested that teachers should have government email addresses for easy contact by parents using that technology. The Minister agreed that it was a good direction to move into and that the Department of Information Technology was looking into the matter.
On the question of indiscipline at the comprehensive school, another speaker commented that enough was not being done in terms of preventative care. “The children who behave in that way in Campus A and Campus B have had the potential to swing that way when they reached fifth and sixth grade in the primary schools,” she said. She pointed out that it was necessary to control the children in those lower schools before they entered Campus B.
One of the other speakers expressed the view that the Ministry and Department of Education should inform the meeting about some of the challenges with which they are faced at their end.
The Permanent Secretary did not have all of the relevant statistics, but replied: “From where I sit, our major challenge is a resource one. I say that from the standpoint that there is a lot that needs to be done. There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to go into the system, but in terms of the actual resources to get the work done that is a major challenge. I am talking about financial and human as well as physical resources. When we look, for example, at basic things like access to education, which depends in large part on physical infrastructure, a lot of our schools leave much to be desired. It is something that we have been lobbying for a tremendous period of time. We are actually going to embark next year on commencing the re-development of one of the primary schools because it seems that every year, from the little funds that we have, we spend so much money trying to repair and upgrade and fix problems that never seem to go away.”
Mrs Petty Barrett went on: “Basic things like adequate water supply at schools are basic issues that we grapple with. As I said, it is really a lack of financial resources to address a whole host of issues.” She made the point that “in Anguilla we say that we are five-star destination but we don’t have the same standards for our children when it comes to school and education…” She agreed that there was a need for great improvement in the area of technology information and disclosed that next year, among other matters, the Ministry and Department of Education would be looking at developing their math, science and information technology policy. She said that another issue was Campus B which needed to be expanded but because of the way it was constructed it was not possible to construct a third floor. She added that the current infrastructure of the schools could not necessarily assist in preparing children for the future.
Replying to a further question, Mrs Petty Barrett said: “I think that given the limitations we work under, our teachers do a tremendous job.” She singled literacy as one of the areas where much success was being achieved.
The forum, though not well-attended, was thought to have been a useful and enlightening event.