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Ministry, Lions Public Speaking Competition rift widening

Ministry, Lions Public Speaking Competition rift widening

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If a growing rift between the Lions Club South and the Ministry of Education in relation to the annual FLOW Lions Club South Public Speaking competition is not mended soon, the competition may take on a new format in 2017.

Last Monday, October 17, during a briefing at the Government Employees Cooperative Credit Union (GECCU) conference room to announce the 2016 public speaking finalists, a teacher attached to the competition described as “distasteful” an email sent by the Ministry of Education to the participating schools.

According to the teacher, the Ministry asked that the schools disregard any communication from Junior Bacchus and the Lions Club South.{{more}}

“It was distasteful to receive the topics from the Lions Club and then to get correspondence from the Ministry saying to disregard…. The tone of the letter was what was bothering me, ‘disregard any letter from Junior Bacchus and the Lions Club’ and I think that something is wrong there,” said the concerned teacher.

She asked, “I am wondering, do you come together, the Ministry of Education and the Lions Club to … come up with the topics or do they know about them before they are given to the schools?”

In response, chairperson of the public speaking competition Junior Bacchus said that he drafted a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) a few years ago and the Ministry signed off on it, but the Ministry has not lived up to the guidelines of the MOU.

Since 2012, there has been friction between the Ministry and the Club in relation to the topics chosen for the competition. In that year, the main topic initially proposed by the Club for the finals was axed because some teachers, supported by the Ministry, felt it was too political.

Then in 2013, no competition was held after the Ministry of Education changed three of the four topics selected by the Lions for the preliminaries of the competition, a move, the Lions described then as “high-handed”. By the time Ministry of Education and the Lions came to an agreement about the topics, the schools indicated that they were unable to accommodate the competition.

According to reports, the Lions said then, as a non-governmental body, they would not accept that level of what they considered “governmental interference”. They also advised that they would not be hosting the competition unless the Ministry “withdraws this edict, develops a proper protocol of non-interference and engages our club in a respectful manner.”

It was after this debacle that Bacchus said he drafted the MOU, which was agreed to and signed by a Ministry of Education representative.

Bacchus said that the MOU states that the topics for the preliminary rounds would be sent to the Ministry of Education for vetting before September 1.

But according to Bacchus, the topics were sent on August 26 this year and by September 12 they still had not heard from the Ministry of Education and that held up the competition.

“The competition is ours and we are the ones trying to bring this intellectual discussion to the nation and raise issues that are of concern to the country.

“We were not getting feedback; the MOU asked for feedback by the first and by the 12th, no feedback,” said Bacchus, who noted that he spoke about the issue with the Principals’ Association and the email in question was sent out the night before a meeting had been scheduled with the acting chief education officer.

Bacchus said that he pretended that he did not know about the email and went to the meeting, at which changes were made to the topics by the Ministry.

“We were not happy with the wording, but we went along and we tried to move on. It is the second year in a row that we are getting resistance to the extent that my members are uncomfortable,” said Bacchus.

But acting chief education officer Beverly Neptune says she is not aware of the existence of any rift between the Ministry of Education and the Lions Club South.

Neptune admits that there was a delay in responding to the Lions in relation to the topics, which she attributes to the period of transition at the end of August when former chief education officer Lou-Anne Gilchrist left to take up her new assignment as ambassador to the United States.

Neptune took over from Gilchrist on September 1.

The acting chief said without waiting for a response from the Ministry, the Lions communicated the topics directly to the schools, which they are not authorized to do.

She said this forced her to call and write to the schools, asking them to disregard the topics that had been given to them by the Club and await official communication from the Ministry. She explained that in the past, where schools had received topics by telephone, there were cases where different schools prepared presentations on differently worded topics.

Neptune said after the meeting with Bacchus, during which the topic were finalized, the Ministry prepared a circular which was sent to all secondary schools, and that the Ministry co-operated fully with the Club during the preliminaries, even authorizing the use of certain venues.

Bacchus, however, contends that the Club does the competition as a service to the community and they are all volunteers and are not paid.

“It is not easy to come up with these topics; we sit down, study, analyse, draft and if you said to the Ministry, ‘give us topics’ we will never get a topic. We had invited them to send their topics in the MOU and nothing,” contended Bacchus.

He said that he is hoping that by the end of this year, the Ministry’s attitude changes and if it doesn’t, next year there will not be a secondary schools’ public speaking competition.

“We will still have it, but it will turn out to be a community based public speaking competition for students between the ages of 14 to 18. We will put it in an age group and not work through the Ministry,” stressed Bacchus.

He said that they will work through the communities and pay teachers a stipend to groom young persons from the various communities to take part.

According to the competition’s chair, the preliminary rounds will be based in the communities.

“That is the thinking…we are frustrated; we are forcing [ourselves] to do this (competition) and I can tell you, FLOW is fully with us, no matter which way we choose,” stressed Bacchus.

This year, the competition will be held on November 16 at the Russell’s Auditorium, with the main topic being “The recently enacted Cybercrime Act, with all its virtues, can suppress fundamental rights and freedoms.” The students will speak for a period not exceeding 10 minutes. (LC)

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