By Ravin Singh
PANDEMONIUM broke out on Tuesday afternoon at an assembly of teachers and students of Brickdam Secondary School and their parents and officials from the Education Ministry during discussions regarding the indefinite closure of the school and possible arrangements for students and teachers to be relocated.
The Ministry of Education, through Chief Education Officer (CEO) Olato Sam, announced that “Brickdam [Secondary] is no more”, given the inoperable state of the school.
Conditions at the school had forced teachers to down tools since Thursday last in protest at what they deem “unacceptable standards” at one of the country’s top secondary schools.
According to Sam, who spoke at the meeting, held on Tuesday afternoon at St Stanislaus College, teachers had agreed, on Friday during a meeting, to resume teaching, since only three weeks remain in the academic term; while a long-term solution was also promised.
“I personally asked them [the teachers] if they would work for the next three weeks and allow us to find a permanent solution for the problem by September. But somewhere between Friday and Monday, they decided that they weren’t going to teach,” he told parents and students in the presence of teachers of Brickdam Secondary, who did not object to his assertions.
His statement was, however, subsequently debunked by one teacher, who spoke to this newspaper on condition of anonymity due to the fear of victimisation. That teacher explained that the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) had tried, at a meeting, to lobby the CEO to engage a teacher representative in the presence of GTU and other Ministry officials. The intent was to arrive at a feasible plan, but to no avail.
This teacher, who has served the institution for a number of years, said that without any consultations, Sam imposed his decision of having the teachers and students dispersed to other schools around Georgetown. Thus the teachers were all served with letters indicating which school they would be transferred to on Tuesday.
“This decision to disperse both the students and teachers was forced down our throats, since no one was consulted on it,” the teacher explained.
The teacher pleaded continuously with this newspaper to ensure identity protection, since, according to this teacher, teachers have been victimised for speaking out.
“One teacher was seconded to David Rose School for being vocal on this issue and fighting for the rights of his colleagues,” this teacher said.
Teachers also believe that if they are dispersed it will eventually become a permanent move and would likely result in dissolution of Brickdam Secondary School. On this basis, they are maintaining that they would continue to fight for their rights and those of the students, and for the survival of the institution they hold dearly.
Teachers of Brickdam Secondary will meet among themselves today to discuss what actions will be taken or what decisions will be made on their part.
The teachers had proposed that the Ministry provide a temporary holding place, preferably another underpopulated school, to house the academic staff and students of Brickdam for the remainder of this term.
They said that, during this time, students will only be writing examinations, which allows for a shift system to be arranged and the Ministry to have enough time to devise a long-term solution to the problem.
“Saint Stanislaus currently has adequate space. The fifth and sixth formers are out of school currently, so the students of Brickdam can come to Saints on a shift system and get their tests done,” the teacher said.
The population of Brickdam Secondary is less than 300 students.
The GTU had proposed a similar arrangement, and had suggested that the Ministry relocate the students and teachers to Enterprise Primary, since that institution is currently underpopulated.
Enterprise Primary was built to facilitate 1100 students, but currently has a population of approximately 200.
According to reports, Sam strongly objected to this suggestion, saying that students at the primary level should not be mixed with those at the secondary level.
The meeting eventually descended into bedlam, as Sam reportedly opposed every other proposition presented to him by both teachers and parents.
Clifton Paul, a parent, recommended that the school cease operations immediately and wait for the academic term to end. He suggested that after school breaks for the summer vacation, students with examinations pending could sit those examinations at another school.
“With this plan, we cannot complain about the availability of space or the mixing of students, because school will be out for the holidays,” he said.
This suggestion was also rejected by the CEO, who maintained that both teachers and students would be sent to schools across Georgetown. He even stated that during this time the Ministry would find a permanent solution for the problem. However, it is unlikely that the Ministry would build a new school, given that that was not budgeted for in the 2016 National Budget.
And both teachers and parents are holding firm on not sending their children to schools in the city with which they are not familiar; not even to write examinations.
Another parent, Colin Alfred, contended that all the CEO was doing was “grandstanding” and misusing the Queen’s language. Alfred explained that at the beginning of the meeting with parents, Sam stated that both Brickdam and Central High School have major problems. And just prior to his departure, Alfred added, he [the CEO] suggested that some of the students be transferred to the same Central High he said was not in a good state.
“I don’t know if it makes sense to him, but to us it doesn’t,” he said.
Alfred went on to express his dissatisfaction with some of Sam’s remarks during the meeting with parents. “It was also extremely poor for the Chief Education Officer (CEO) of this country to tell teachers of that school in public that they don’t want to teach; all because these people are highlighting their grievances. It was unbecoming and shameful on his part,” an annoyed Alfred said.
After the CEO’s voice had been drowned out as a result of the disapproval of visibly upset parents, he departed. He was keen to note before leaving, however, that students of Brickdam Secondary would be issued with letters today (Wednesday) indicating which schools they will be transferred to.