PHILIPSBURG--Transforming an existing English public primary school into a Dutch one; creating incentives for teachers to obtain "favourable" mortgage rates and expanding public school hours were amongst the plans Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs Minister Rita Bourne-Gumbs outlined to Members of Parliament (MPs) on Wednesday.
The plans cover the current four-year governing period. Bourne-Gumbs said when she took office as Minister the various department heads had already established a plan and parties had to see how to incorporate her ideas and "not take their entire plan and dismiss it."
The ministry's plans include putting in place a "strong" foundation for Dutch as a foreign language for all schools in the country. Bourne-Gumbs said she was cognisant that the language of instruction at public schools is English. She is researching the possibility of changing one of the English public schools into a public school where the language of instruction is Dutch.
A new school will not be constructed. "This will take some planning because we will have to see how to do it and give parents the preference," the Minister said during the meeting of Parliament's Permanent Committee of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs (CECYSA). "We will look at e zoning to create this." She said discussions on this matter have taken place.
The ministry also plans to partner with local financial institutions to assist in creating incentives for teachers for "favourable" loans and mortgage rates. Bourne-Gumbs said "very few" teachers own their homes. She was concerned that teachers, who lay the foundation for the future generation couldn't get a mortgage to own homes.
The Minister would also like to see additional assistant teachers in each school, which she said had been "a dream" during the introduction of Foundation Based Education (FBE). It was previously noted that all classrooms will have an assistant teacher, but Bourne-Gumbs said this is "easier said than done."
Each school currently has one or two assistant teachers. The goal is to furnish all schools with more assistant teachers, increasing numbers up to four or five in each facility so that the rotation and work load can be shared more effectively.
Another plan of the minister is to expand the existing school hours of all public schools as more hours are "necessary." The Minister will seek to implement expanded school hours in all public schools "hopefully in a year or two." Catholic schools have already extended their school hours to focus on extracurricular activities for pupils, she noted.
The Minister also wants students to be provided with hot meals daily, which she said will coincide with the extending of school hours. Princess Juliana International Airport SXM breakfast programme for public schools has been beneficial to many students, she mentioned.
Regarding the one tablet per child project, an initiative of former Education Minister Patricia Lourens-Philip, Bourne-Gumbs said the project is actually one table per every two pupils. Providing one tablet per child is "very costly." Bourne-Gumbs said this initiative will be continued.
The ministry will seek to establish a partnership with "prominent businesses" to adopt a school to "ease the financial strain on government." This does not mean that the subsidy to schools will be decreased, but rather businesses will be able to assist in furnishing the schools that they adopt with the additional materials and tools that they may need. This initiative will be promoted amongst businesses.
The ministry, via its inspection arm, will also seek to monitor the quality of education being delivered through regular and more frequent inspections. The inspection department is faced with the challenge of personnel to execute this goal, but the ministry encourages this. The process has started to reinforce the education inspectorate.
Regarding fostering "a safe and positive learning environment" in schools, the Minister said the ministry is trying to develop a long-term maintenance plan for schools. Authorities are aware of the "serious challenge" with the upkeep of educational institutions, which Bourne-Gumbs said results in a "lack of safety for students."
During her presentation the Minister also touched on several other issues, amongst them was the finalisation of a discipline policy framework and draft guidelines for public schools. The framework is in its final stage and is set to be implemented in the 2015-2016 academic year.
The discipline policy will be a guide for all schools. Each institution can have a guideline for its implementation. A behaviour modification pilot programme will also be introduced in the coming academic year. Some restructuring has been done to the public school system to accommodate a pilot programme which includes the establishment of a "Care Centre" for students in need of behaviour modification.
Other plans include supporting of University of St. Martin's accreditation efforts; reviewing and expanding the existing scholarship policies and the construction of a Multi Purpose Centre for the performance arts amongst other initiatives.
MPs posed several questions and made several statements regarding the Minister's presentation. Based on a request from the Minister for time to thoroughly respond to the questions, the meeting was adjourned.