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Our Prime Minister’s Parent letter

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The talking point around town and throughout the country over the past two weeks was about the incident at the Girls’ High School that prompted the Chief Education Officer to issue a directive to the Headmistress to rescind her decision to grant zero to the PM’s daughter. What generated this was also the subject of much talk.{{more}} The refusal of the Headmistress to bow to the directive from the Ministry would have caught the public’s attention for it is a rare thing today to find public servants with the guts to stand up for principle in the face of a directive from the authorities, especially when the person at the centre of attention was the daughter of the Prime Minister. What, however, was comical about the whole affair was the Prime Minister’s response to public comment in a letter published in last weekend’s newspapers. It was entitled “A Parent’s Right to Ask Questions of Educational Authorities”. One of our Cricket commentators recently informed us that West Indian wicket keeper Carlton Baugh was nicknamed ‘Half a Man’. We might suspect what would have prompted that nickname, but here was another case of ‘Half a Man’ surfacing. Our Prime Minister chose to cut himself in half. His letter was not from Dr, Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St.Vincent and the Grenadines, but supposedly from Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Parent, who lives sometimes at the Prime Minister’s residence at Largo Heights and at other times, I believe, at a private residence at Gorse. In fact the letter might have been written from Gorse and not from Largo Heights.

To compound matters, our PM (sorry Dr. Gonsalves, parent) said in his letter; “Accordingly, I telephoned the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Mrs. Nicole Bonadie-Baker, on the matter. I told her that I was calling as a parent and not as Prime Minister.” Come on! How farcical could we get? Would the Permanent Secretary in her wildest dream ever think of making that distinction? She obviously would never imagine that any private citizen, any parent, would want to call her on such a matter, instead of calling the Principal of the School. It gets more intriguing. “I gave no instructions or offered any guidance. I did not make any report or call on the matter to the Minister, the Chief Education Officer, or the Headmistress of GHS. The Permanent Secretary is the Ministry’s Administrative Head, and it is to that office that I thought my oral query ought to be addressed.” Come on! Is this the thinking of a private citizen, a parent, deciding to address his query to the Ministry’s Administrative Head rather than the Principal of the School? Let’s be real, a Prime Minister does not have to come out and issue instructions or offer guidance, just commenting on a matter or asking questions will give a clue as to what he really needs, or where he stands on the matter.

The Prime Minister, Sorry, Dr. Gonsalves, acknowledges, according to an article by Junior Jarvis in the Searchlight newspaper of July 8, that he had learnt that there were GHS internal rules but that they had never been sanctioned. Furthermore, neither he, Soleil, nor her mother knew of those rules. He understood that the rule in question had been discussed at Parent Teachers meetings ‘but not everyone attends all the meetings’. He was also informed that they were given to students but “It is conceivable that they were given to the students when Soleil was not there. Because I am sure if they were given to Soleil she would have brought them home and shared them with us.” He states that his daughter was sometimes absent from school because she often travels with her mother and father since his children’s education “involves formal instruction and informal learnings.” Let us hope that those teachers with their ‘jaundiced politics’ did not use the opportunity when Soleil was away to inform her class of those rules. Dr. Gonsalves’ letter and Press Conference raises all sorts of issues and questions about a number of things and about the state of mind of the author. If it is true that the Prime Minister’s children have been put under enormous pressure because of the “jaundiced politics” of teachers, whatever that means, then we have to be concerned because we would not want to have children suffering because of what persons might think of their parents or possibly because of the actions of their parents. But the Girls’ High School was singled out and it is a small institution, so it should be possible to identify those jaundiced teachers, or rather those with “jaundiced politics”. If it is found that they acted unprofessionally against the Prime Minister’s children they should be penalised in the same way that any unprofessional conduct against any other child should be handled. Knowing SVG as I do, who would dare to do this?

The Prime Minister got into a lot of semantics about the conditions under which rules can have validity. The issue of the use and possession of cell phones in schools and other educational institutions has been debated and discussed in recent years and schools have been very concerned with what has become a major problem. It would appear according to reports in the newspapers that since 2003 there had been a memo by the Chief Education Officer to the effect that phones were not allowed in schools. Are parents aware of this? I would have thought that the Prime Minister’s first reaction to the news that his daughter had been given a zero because her phone rang in an exam would have been to question her about having a phone in school and particularly during an exam. Even without knowing what were the consequences this should have been his first action. It is hard for me to believe that a student who is in fourth form did not know about a rule for which students have been penalised in the past for infringing. There is obviously some serious break down in communications here, or is there more to it? The Prime Minister did say that his first reaction on hearing the news was “to show no sympathy”. I am not even sure what that means. However, he was pushed to take the action he did through the persuasive rhetoric of his daughter who stated “Does ‘zero tolerance’ on having a cell-phone in school mean, a zero for exams when no such rule was told to the students?” She also argued that CXC “informs students of the rule at registration and reminds them at the start of every exam”. The father was silent “in the face of her persuasive logic” and reflected on it for two or so days before taking the action he did. The rest was laid out before us. There are a number of insinuations about how things are done at the GHS. These need to be responded to, for they convey an impression that might not necessarily be true.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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