Thirty-seven out of the 41 schools targeted for repairs this summer under the Ministry of Education’s Schools Summer Programme will open for classes next Monday – the start of the Michaelmas school term.
The four schools that will remain closed for the first week of the new school term are: St Stephen’s Nursery, Belmont Primary, St Giles Primary and St John Primary.
Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Santia Bradshaw, made the announcement on Wednesday, during the annual tour of schools by Ministry officials, prior to the start of school.
This year, the top level of the teachers’ unions – the Association of Public Primary School Principals (APPS), the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), as well as media personnel, joined the Minister on her visits.
After visiting approximately eight schools, Bradshaw said she was pleased with the overall work carried out by contractors. She added that while 41 was an ambitious number of schools compared to the 17 last year, this goal was necessary because of the dire environmental issues with the physical plants which affected students and teachers.
“I am pleased to say that most of the renovations are on track and  out of the 41 schools will be able to open this Monday, September 9. We’ve had some challenges in the course of the past few months, not necessarily weather related, but in terms of certainly getting the financing to get the projects mobilized. In some cases, contractors may not have had the funds and in some cases the way in which the Ministry traditionally has been able to issue the monies to mobilize that has presented some problems. In fairness, it is not really anyone’s fault, but I am just presenting to you some of the challenges we have been facing. However, we’ve tried to rectify a lot of those problems and I believe the contractors have been able to get most of their financing,” Bradshaw explained.
She said the schools that will remain closed still had some additional work to be completed.
The Education Minister pointed out that the contractors had gone “above and beyond” the call of duty to ensure that the work at the schools was done satisfactorily. She shared that at the start of the programme, she had impressed upon them the importance of working with the Ministry and producing quality work.
“In the past, we may not have had a best practice in terms of contractors, but I think there is a certain standard that contractors should be held to, and they must be accountable in terms of the workmanship. We’ve had a couple of kinks here and there, but nothing to throw us completely off-track. I think 37 out of 41 schools, being quite ambitious to start off with, is pretty good.
“Are there concerns that are still outstanding? Yes, there are going to be concerns because this is 10 years that there has not been a substantial amount of monies placed within the budget for renovations and repairs to the school plants. So, we are not going to be able to fix in one year what has not been done in 10. But I am confident that we have assured the unions certainly that we are working with them to be able to keep them up to date,” she emphasized.
Bradshaw said another one of the concerns of the Ministry was the age of the school plants. Government was spending money to maintain old buildings, which was a continuous cost, she observed.
However, she disclosed that her Ministry was trying to address this issue by working with persons with the relevant expertise from the Ministries of Health, Environment and Labour.
Additionally, the state of bathroom facilities at both primary and secondary schools was of some concern. Bradshaw said that while this issue had been addressed at some of the schools, under the Schools Summer Programme, there was still a lot more to be done to bring bathrooms across the board up to grade.
To this end, she said Government had awarded the Ministry monies to upgrade bathrooms at school plants. “We are trying to move to a more commercial grade type of equipment, and we are trying to make sure the plumbing fittings are also adequate, that there is proper ventilation and that the correct urinals are ordered. It is taking a little longer because we are trying to be as thorough as we can be, but the process should be able to start perhaps by the next vacation in December [this year]. But I am satisfied with the progress we have made so far,” the Education Minister stated.