Schools repairs, maintenance and vandalism
The Government’s $6.5 million school repair and renovation programme is now in full swing, and not a moment too soon. Last academic year, leaks and other hazardous conditions had been reported at several of our schools, with things getting so bad that the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) advised their members to withdraw their services in at least one case.
When one considers that over 90 schools will benefit from the repair program, $6.5 million is but a drop in the pan. We however welcome this exercise and at the same time call for a more comprehensive ongoing program of maintenance so that the situation at schools and other public buildings will not deteriorate to the state that some of them have.
The last time Government undertook such a comprehensive school repair program was in 2001, a few months after the Unity Labour Party took office. At that time, the nationwide school repair program involved roofing, ceiling, plumbing, electrical and other renovations at 71 schools. Eighteen years is a long time in between major repair programs, so it is expected that there would have been significant wear and tear on the facilities at the schools, especially those that are frequently used by the public for social and other events.
But, not all of the damage and deterioration at the school plants was unavoidable, a fact that veteran educator Philbert John has frequently drawn to the attention of the public. He is using the occasion of the 2019 schools repair program to call for the implementation of a coordinated and sustained anti-vandalism program in our schools to significantly reduce the level of wanton destruction of furniture, fixtures and equipment that has been taking place.
SEARCHLIGHT lends its support to John’s call, because for such a program to be successful, an all hands on deck approach will be needed.
At first glance, it may be perceived that all that is needed is for teachers to be more vigilant and for students and members of the public to be more responsible. There is more to it than that, as there must be deterrents and penalties that are easily implementable at the school level, as well as a system to hold parents accountable and financially responsible for the damage their children do. At present, school administrators have very few options in terms of disciplinary measures they may use for those who wilfully destroy school property, as the school regulations are unclear.
Additionally, principals are hesitant about calling in the police, as damage to public property is a criminal offence and this hard line approach may not be desirable in all cases.
So let us begin the national conversation on the prevention of vandalism in schools. We must rid our society of the mentality that Government property has no value and is easily replaceable. There are far too many yet unmet needs in our country for our limited financial resources to be diverted to remedy situations that are highly avoidable.