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Education Ministry told ‘be more proactive’

By Rachael Espinet Tuesday, September 2 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Tim Goopeesingh...
Tim Goopeesingh...

Proactive, proper and continuous maintenance of school facilities throughout the year will reduce the need for large overhauls during the July/August vacation period.

Davanand Sinanan, President of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teacher’s Association (TTUTA) told Newsday yesterday. “We wait for schools to fall apart and then spend large sums of money to repair the school. If the building was being properly maintained, they would not have this incredible volume to repair.”

“If you have a proper maintenance schedule for a building, then you can put things in place to have contractors be at the school on time before any problems can occur. This reduces the chances of the school closing before time,” Sinanan said. As the new academic year begins today, Sinanan estimates that approximately 12 to 14 schools will remain closed due to incomplete repairs. During the Ministry of Education’s Vacation Repair Programme (VRP) 243 primary and secondary schools and 73 early childhood care and education (ECCE) centres around the country were repaired.

However, Sinanan said the extensive repair work done during the vacation period would be avoided if schools had the autonomy to manage their own work throughout the year. He calls on the Ministry to work with all stakeholders to find a solution that allows schools to manage the property.

“While we appreciate the efforts by the Ministry and the Minister of Education. The sheer scale of the repairs exercise is just too much for EFCL (Education Facilities Company Limited) to handle. The Ministry of Education needs to sit with TTUTA and other stakeholders to try and find a formula that puts a greater emphasis on proactive maintenance,” Sinanan said.

Principals are in charge of overseeing the school grounds. While they are given a fund to do minor repairs on schools, they are expected to report to the district school supervisors any need for major repair works.

Primary school principals receive $100,000 per year for these repairs. Depending on the school’s student population, physical size and subjects offered, secondary school principals receive a minor repair fund ranging from $800,000 to more than a million dollars.

However, Sinanan emphasised that school principals are not trained in facility maintenance and need assistance to oversee these matters. All secondary schools should have a trained maintenance person to oversee the facilities and report to the principals if any problems occur, Sinanan advised.

While primary schools, particularly older ones, need extensive repairs, Sinanan said maintenance officers can work through the schools’ district offices and be dispatched to schools to oversee the grounds and handle repair works. The current system for repairs, Sinanan said, was too bureaucratic. “We need to rethink the whole approach. Given the challenge we have with schools needing urgent repairs. This current form is hardly satisfactory,” Sinanan said.

Sinanan also called on denominational boards to take responsibility for their schools and do repair works necessary. He said most government assisted schools do not receive adequate funds from their boards to have any repairs done.

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