On behalf of the board and members of URSM, I would like to wish our students, their parents, and our teachers all the best for this new year. As the leader of URSM, I am happy that our students can once again follow in-person classes without the challenges they faced over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is this sense of normalcy critical for our students, but it also alleviates the stress the online and in some cases dual learning system caused on our teachers.
While seeing all the happy faces back in school, I cannot help but reflect on the current state of education in St. Maarten. Questions that come to mind are: what has been the effect of the pandemic on the individual results of our students over the past two years? Do the schoolboards have an idea as to this impact on our students? Has the Ministry of Education assessed this? How do the “Irma and COVID-19” students measure to the previous cohort? Not to mention the mental health of students and staff. Lastly, a more important question I ask myself is how much attention have we given the education sector since 10/10/10?
As the leader of URSM, I am of the opinion that we have neglected this critical sector. As a party, we have thought long and hard about the education system our children deserve. While it is easy to criticize, we recognize the importance of actually proposing solutions.
For one, we believe it is high time to review and amend the current methods used to calculate and approve subsidies for schools. While we have a law on compulsory education, the government does not guarantee education for all. Furthermore, the current subsidy method used by the Ministry of Education places its focus predominantly on the number of students per school. In other words, the more students registered at a school the higher the number of funds received by the school. Little emphasis is placed on ensuring the actual quality standards of education applied by the respective schools are met. A specific budget for periodic evaluation of curriculum is not part of this lump sum. Imagine, our children are currently taught based on a curriculum that was formulated more than 30 years ago.
The recognition of children with learning disabilities is nowhere to be found in this system. If it were, we would have a public school catering to special needs children up to age 16 or 18, and/or we would subsidize those private institutions that do cater to such. The current methods also fail to highlight the importance of regular training for teachers.
The URSM is finalizing its overall vision for education which will outline solutions to address the ongoing challenges facing our country’s educational system.
Once again I wish all students parents and teachers a successful academic year!
Dr. Luc Mercelina
Leader of the URSM