By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
THE official opposition is calling the government's decision to amalgamate the public schools on Mayaguana "a regressive education policy", but the director of education says the decision was made to maximise the government's resources.
Yesterday, PLP senator and the opposition's spokesman for education, Dr Michael Darville issued a statement lambasting the government for the decision, saying the parents and stakeholders in the community of Mayaguana are opposed to it.
"I again note the continued demonstrations by parents and stakeholders in the community of Mayaguana on Monday, September 7 in strong opposition to the confusion being caused by the government's decision to 'amalgamate' the public school system there," Dr Darville's statement read.
"The government's proposed amalgamation of the primary and secondary public schools in Mayaguana is widely regarded in the local community as a regressive education policy and a move backwards to the outdated 'all age school' education system."
Director of Education Marcellus Taylor said the decision to amalgamate was made based on the population on Mayaguana and the number of school aged children on that island.
"In many of the southern islands of The Bahamas, we have had diminished enrolment in schools as the communities have diminished populations. Places are becoming more urbanised, people leave the rural areas and go to the urban areas. And, because that happens, we have the challenge of getting resources in place to offer the type and quality of service we would've liked," Mr Taylor explained.
"Now when we look at the school age population in Mayaguana, what we have there is a school enrolment of 39 children. And, we are utilising a building that has historically accommodated that amount of students when it was based on only one settlement. We are not of the opinion that we will have any problems accommodating the students. In addition to the school building that is there, we are using one of the buildings that is in the community. So this process of amalgamating schools is to maximise the resources that we have."
Dr Darville also has a problem with the building proposed for the amalgamation. In addition to that, he doubts it will be ready for the October 5 opening of school.
"Also, the proposed refurbished site in Pirate's Well - the old lodge hall building - is inadequate, not COVID-19 compliant and the refurbishment cannot be completed in time for school opening," Dr Darville's statement continued. "Additionally, the proposed administration building at the closed high school location in Abraham's Bay is considered too inaccessible to the general public."
Mr Taylor explained that Mayaguana originally had two schools - one in Abraham's Bay and one in Pirate's Well. The amalgamated primary and secondary schools will now operate out of Pirate's Well and the Abraham's Bay school will now become offices for the island administrator who was looking for a space to operate.
"The teacher resource is the first and most important thing we look at; that we have to ensure that we have sufficient teachers to cover the student enrolment and also the physical plant and our ability to maintain it and to outfit it with all the things we feel they need to put in place. Amalgamating the school is one of the ways in which you do that," he said.
"We are in the process of renovating and refurbishing the building to make sure it can accommodate any overflow that we may have. We are quite confident and satisfied that what we are doing is in the best interest of the education and also the community. There are some people that claim that this isn't working for them, but when you look at what the claims are, it's not a claim against amalgamation, it's a claim against the choice of site."
Mr Taylor said the Ministry of Education is confident that it will be able to accommodate the children at the school by one of the three models - complete virtual, complete face to face or a hybrid. Whichever model is suitable at the time, he said, the ministry will employ.
He also said: "The government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas has to operate as the government ought to. On the next end, people complain about this and that but we have to maximise the resources that we have. The government of The Bahamas has its limitations. It has a capacity and if we keep just using the resources lavishly and irresponsibly it creates problems for us as a country, down the road.
"Look at government revenue in Mayaguana. I guarantee you, what we spend on just education alone is two or three times what the government takes in as revenue in Mayaguana. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be providing the service, but what it does mean is that we should be judicious in the way in which we provide those services so that we can maximise the resources we have."
In his statement, Dr Darville called upon Mayaguana representative Miriam Emmanuel to respond to "the plight of her constituents".
When contacted, MICAL MP Miriam Emmanuel said she was aware of the concerns.
"There is always, in my view, some justifiable reasons whether you accept it or not, why schools or some other project may not be completed at the particular time," she said. "I can assure you that whatever the situation is concerning the schools on Mayaguana, the matter is receiving urgent attention. The children of Mayaguana and education are of great importance to this government, the minister and myself. The schools will be completed in time as education is very vital to the development of our children and our nation."