Monday 21 September, 2020

Education Minister Rigobert Presents New School Year Message

Back to school and a new school year is a period which brings to students as well as teachers and parents much interest as it does some levels of anxiety.

As Minister with responsibility for Education, I do understand that you are very excited to embark upon a new journey, especially those of you who are entering school for the first time or are beginning your Secondary school education or Tertiary Education. I beg of you to embrace the privilege of an education and to acknowledge that it is a wonderful opportunity to be afforded the gift of the experience of learning.

While we recognize that there are still many changes to take place within the education sector, so that we can address the mismatch between that which we offer and that which the labour market requires, I am satisfied that all stakeholders are prepared to work together so that our young people can, thanks to the dedication of our teachers and educators, be exposed to an environment that allows them to fulfil their God given skills and talents.

This academic year, I wish to indicate that there will be a special focus on technical vocational education and training. We have long lamented the fact that it appears that technical vocational education training is an area that is stigmatized in the main. Two years ago, when I first met with the TVET Council and my TVET Unit, I implored them to do more to correct some of the misconceptions. We must recognize that largely we are a service oriented economy and that means we are compelled to prepare our students, our graduates, to function in a service economy.

A couple of months ago, I met with the Saint Lucia Chamber of Commerce and I was very encouraged by the quality of exchange and the level of interest and commitment which was evident. And in the conversations which I have had more recently with SALCC especially the DTEMS Dean and other colleagues from that department, we recognize that whereas we benefit from great collaboration with the private sector, there is still some room for improvement. And so I ask of the Chamber to continue to engage the SALCC and afford its students, not only those from DTEMS, but also those from the other departments, the opportunity of an apprenticeship so that they can get real life experience as part of their broader educational experience at SALCC.

Every year in June, we announce the CSEC results and it is sometimes disturbing and heartbreaking, to see the extent parents and guardians would go, to seek redress because in their minds their children may not have been assigned to a school which they perceive to offer a quality secondary school education. I wish to remind our people, that the curriculum offered at the secondary school level is universal, meaning that all secondary schools follow the same curriculum. I am therefore confident, that the teachers at the various secondary schools are equally competent and equipped to deliver that curriculum. Universal secondary education has to mean more than just a placement at a secondary school. We must also perceive it to mean that they have equal access to a quality secondary school education.

Over this past summer, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what more we can do to ensure that our students can boast of having received a globally competitive education upon their graduation. And we recognize that curriculum review is necessary at this point, as we acknowledge various paradigmatic shifts in the business sector - in technology and in consumer patterns and that our students ought to be given the best chance of securing a job or venturing into a business opportunity as entrepreneurs.

And so, over the next couple of months, the ministry of education will embark on a comprehensive curriculum review exercise, so that we can determine what more we need to offer. We need to review whether there are existing subject areas that need to be deemphasized and whether there are courses that are deemed now to be critical and necessary. These would need to be highlighted and in keeping with the notion that we are a service oriented economy largely dependent on tourism and hospitality, that it makes sense to consider having our students do at least one foreign language which would be compulsory. We have had some pilot programs in that regard with French being offered for example at certain primary schools, but the time has come, I think, for us to consider making it mandatory.

There has been a lot of conversation about corporal punishment in schools and whether we should consider the suspension or abolition. We are minded that notwithstanding that, there has been extensive training and sensitization for educators in the areas of safe schools and child friendly schools as well as positive behaviour modification. I am a strong advocate of positive approaches to behaviour modification and not punitive approaches and I am guided by my team as to how to implement a suspension of corporal punishment in the first instance, with a view to complete abolition in the long term.

I wish to applaud my student’s welfare team for the kind of work they have done over the summer to identify and equip students who come from economically challenged households. We have been able this year again, to give books, learning material, school bags to children who are in need. We are also continuing our school feeding program, with a view to expanding the program where necessary. Similarly the school transportation subsidy program continues and we should not at all underestimate the value of that intervention.

I wish also to applaud the teachers who dedicated the first couple weeks of their vacation to attending the summer institute which I must say by all indications was a tremendous success and highlighted again the unwavering commitment and dedication of our educators. I hope that we can continue to offer that kind of training so that our teachers can be exposed to new and emerging methodologies and that they can sharpen their skills and become better prepared to deliver to the children of this nation.

On that note I would like to commend the students who performed exceptionally well at this year’s Common Entrance Exams as well as those who sat the CSEC exams and CAPE exams. The results of the CSEC exams revealed that we are performing better that the region’s average and that there was an increase in the overall performance this year. I would like to commend the students, teachers and principals and all those who played their part in ensuring that our students continue to strive for excellence.
I also wish to thank the Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Hon. Allen Chastanet, for increasing the allocation for school repair and refurbishment. This year we benefited from the injection of EC$10 million for the repair of our schools, some of which are decades old and were evidently in deplorable condition.

We recognize the various paradigmatic shifts in the education sector, requiring that we effect some dramatic changes particularly in the area of E-learning and the use of ICT learning in education today. It is for that reason that last September we moved very quickly to introduce courses that would improve the digital competency of our students so that they will be well equipped to take an exam delivered in electronic mode or digital medium.

Further to that, it has become necessary for us to outfit many of the schools, with smart classrooms.

Finally, I wish to thank principals, teachers, school staff, parents and students for their patience and understanding they have demonstrated over the last couple of years especially as we tried to effect some changes and the level of cooperation that we have received.

I once again take this opportunity to wish every student and teachers a very productive and successful school year and to remind every Saint Lucian that the welfare of our children should be of concern to us all and that we should do everything to ensure that we provide them with a safe and stimulating environment in which to learn, play and grow.

We pray that all those involved in the educational experience of our students will be imbued with the wisdom, patience, knowledge, compassion, understanding and fairness. May God bless all of you! Thank you!

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