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11 institutions in disarray
Eleven schools in south, east and central Trinidad remained closed yesterday because the Education Ministry had failed to organise refurbishment works on sewer systems, ceilings and electrical wiring. Students eager to start classes after a two-month holiday had to return home. Among the schools affected were Debe Secondary, Mafeking Government, Clarke Rochard Government, Rio Claro Hindu, Rio Claro Vedic, Pleasantville Senior, Tunapuna Boys RC, Upper Carapichaima Presbyterian and Marabella North Secondary. At the Rio Claro Hindu School, parents staged a noisy protest. Interim president of the PTA Sankar Mahabirsingh said the Ministry of Health shut down the school yesterday because it was unsafe. He said the ceiling was infested with bats and the electrical wiring was poor. When rain fell, he added, classrooms have to be shifted while bins and buckets were used to catch water from the leaking roof.
He said: “The ministry had two months to fix these problems because it’s over two years now that we complaining. Our children are getting sick in this school.” When the T&T Guardian visited parts of the ceiling were loose and the smell of bat faeces filled the air. The classrooms were dusty and electrical cords were hanging loose. Mahabirsingh called on the Government to install air-conditioning in the classrooms as well as generally enhancing the entire school building and floor. Several parents expressed disgust at the inefficiency of the ministry. Prudence George said: “My son was looking forward to attending class today. It’s sickening because every term we have a problem.” Another parent, Sharlene Ramrattan, called on the Government to get its act together. “They cannot have our children in this kind of environment. This school built since 1954 and it is time for them to fix it,” she said.
Over 550 pupils attend the Rio Claro Hindu School. Mahabirsingh said it was not the only school affected. “We also have similar problems at Rio Claro Presbyterian, St Therese RC School, Rio Claro Vedic, Ecclesville Presbyterian and Poole RC School,” he said. At Clarke Rochard Government Primary School, Penal, parents arrived with their children to find the floors and walls covered in dust. Kishore Maharaj, whose son is in Standard Five said he was disgusted. He said on August 5, a contractor began replacing the terrazzo floors. “They never completed the project and this morning when we came the school was in a mess. It is closed until further notice and we think that someone should be held accountable for this,” Maharaj said, adding his son’s education was in jeopardy.
At Mafeking Government School, parents shut down the school after electrical sparks began coming from the wires. A parent said: “Since last term we have been having problems. Before Divali the school almost burnt down after the electrical panel box caught fire.” At Guayaguayare RC, parents said they planned to shut down classes indefinitely until proper repairs were done to the toilets. At Debe Secondary School a sewer problem also forced the early dismissal of classes. Carapichaima Presbyterian was said to be in need of toilet repairs, while Tunapuna Boys’ RC was in need of general electrical works.
First vice-president of TTUTA, Antonia de Freitas, said the lack of funding for schools, coupled with an inefficient tendering process were responsible for the myriad of school problems yesterday.
She said the funding primary school principals received to operate their schools should not be used to effect major repair works. She also said the Education Facilities Company should undertake a comprehensive maintenance programme of all schools. “We must put measures in place to ensure that efficient contractors are hired to do the job,” De Freitas added. She said TTUTA could not allow teachers and students to function in an unsafe environment. In the past, she said, contractors who did the work were not paid on time and were therefore hesitant to do more. But she was not sure if that was the reason infrastructural work was not completed on this occasion.
Tim says $340m spent on repairs
Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh said in a statement that during the repair programme in July/August 2013, 212 schools underwent repairs and maintenance, about 30 of which required major electrical works. He said: “There have been 32 Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) schools constructed, with 20 more to be completed by December and 26 commencing within one month. Another 50 ECCE schools are to be constructed in the upcoming fiscal year. “There were 11 primary schools constructed, another 14 are in progress and 50 more are scheduled to commence soon,” Gopeesingh said.
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