21 January 2011

Sint Maarten Education Minister Outlines Vision for Quality Education

Minister Rhoda Arrindell delivers message on "The Right to Quality Education."

Daily Herald

PHILIPSBURG--Education Minister Rhoda Arrindell said her vision for quality education is that in the short-term her Ministry would implement compulsory education and eradicate school drop-out.

"To achieve this will require that we improve teacher performance and professionalism, a goal which I am happy to report, is shared by the Windward Islands Teachers Union(WITU)," Arrindell noted when delivering the 24th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture hosted by Conscious Lyrics Foundation and held in the Philipsburg Cultural and Community Saturday night. Her topic was 'The Right to Quality Education.'

She said she had already established a regular monthly meeting with the union to enlist its collaboration and ensure that all remain on the same page in matters related to teachers and to education in general. Moreover the Minister said her vision calls for the need to improve the overall learning environment, from making a better and more effective use of the physical assets available, such as schools, gyms, etc., to ensuring that no child learns with a hungry stomach at school. She said her tour of several schools last month served as an eye-opener to those physical needs and the concerns expressed by those schools will be addressed effectively.

In addition, her vision she said requires establishing Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with providers of higher education so that there is continuity for students, as well as promoting studying in the region. "I have already initiated efforts in this direction with institutions of higher learning in the Caribbean, which efforts will be expanded upon shortly in order for them to yield the desired results", the Minister said.

She said the mid-term goals her Ministry has set include among others, the systematic use of information and communication technology (ICT) in all schools. "This will ensure that all students will have access to computers and the Internet and that they are used systematically throughout the school curriculum. In this 21st century, all St. Maarten students must be computer literate and Internet–savvy," she stressed.

Furthermore, she said she intends to institute Physical Education instruction in all schools. "It is my view that the image of the nerd as physically weak must be confined to the TV screens where it belongs and not be allowed to sink root in our consciousness."

"In the long term, I envisage an educational system in which there will be a steady and seamless stream of students from the time they enter playschool to the time they are ripe for secondary school and ultimately university or any other institution of tertiary learning.

"In concrete terms, this means that all secondary school graduates should be able to possess a minimum level of competence, with a curriculum that has a high academic content, and that includes arts and culture as well as sports as mandatory subjects. This would mean eventually expanding school hours, improving professionalism, and greater parental involvement in the education of their children up to the higher education level," she suggested.

"In the long term, also, I want to see each school having teams in all sports and participating in an annual sports festival. It should not be far-fetched to establish in each school teams that will compete against one another for national titles or institutionalize healthy competition in cultural activities such as Carnival, Emancipation Day, Christmas, etc. among our schools," the Minister noted of her vision.

She said she strongly believed that each school, each educational institution on our island, must be of the best quality it can be, with the best students, the best teachers, the best equipment, and reaping the best results in competitive examinations.

"Quality education in this day and age, cannot and should not be viewed as "elitist" or "expensive." In fact, to paraphrase the quote of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. which I began this lecture with, "Nothing in the entire world is more expensive and elitist than 'sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity' parading itself as expertise," said the Minister.

Noting her quest for quality education she said the question of course is how Government can afford this with the meagre financial resources and limited human resources. "What I certainly pledge to do is ensure an effective and prudent husbandry of the resources available to us. The "cut, cut, cut," mode in which government finds itself at the moment must translate into greater creativity in making use of what we have and setting priorities that are achievable within our means.

"I believe in the genius of the St. Maarten parent to find the funds needed to grant his or her child the kind of quality education outlined in this vision. I know you believe, as I do, the adage to be true that says: 'If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,'" the Minister said.

In concluding the Minister said, "The time to act is now, when we can no longer blame others for our shortcomings; when our pride and dignity as a people should not allow us to wait on hand-outs to build our own schools and develop our own curricula; when the reality of our goals demand that we do not throw away the wisdom of our most successful educators when they retire, but find ways to use them to our best advantage.

"The time to act is NOW, when our manifest destiny is freedom. And for that freedom to ring loud and clear to all corners of the globe from our hills and mountain tops, we have to embrace a new kind of education that will rest on two pillars: quality - that is excellence - and performance."