SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - President of the University of St. Martin (USM) Dr. Antonio Carmona Báez expressed his sincere concern for what he called “the collapse of the public education system” in Sint Maarten, highlighting the fact that since the outbreak of the COVID-19 many schools have practically closed with no plan for communication between teachers and students.
“I am sincerely concerned that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports and central government are allowing for the collapse of the public education system, affecting all children, parents and communities. Some students are not in touch with their teachers; not all children in Sint Maarten have laptops, and some who have laptops do not have stable and affordable internet at home. Parents are pushed to take over didactical tasks beyond their capacity and young people are stuck at home without a structure that will allow them to continue learning”, said Carmona Báez.
Dr. Carmona Báez said that USM has been in contact with both the Department of Education and the Teachers’ Union while monitoring the situation of schools since the World Health Organisation declared the novel coronavirus to be a pandemic. USM took note that on Tuesday, 17 March, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs announced that schools would be closed, and the university prepared for the transition to online learning accordingly. During that week, USM was invited to participate in a committee of stakeholders (without teacher representatives), and helped develop a survey in order to understand the conditions for learning at home.
However, on Friday, 17 April, the Department of Education sent out another survey, this time not including USM. Excluding USM underlines that there is a problem of communication among key stakeholders. No other meetings were called to deal with education during the pandemic. There is an apparent need for more inclusion of such stakeholders as school boards, parents, teacher representatives and the university, which is the only teacher training institution in Sint Maarten. Furthermore, using “free market spirit” to deal with Education during the time of crisis is not favourable.
“We have also taken note of the high rates households have to pay for internet during this pandemic. In an emergency, central government has the power to allow for sufficient internet accessibility to all students for educational purposes. The consequences of not doing so will result in accentuating the social inequalities, whereby many students will be disfavoured because of their economic background. That is the collapse of the public education system” the press release stated.
On his own behalf, Dr. Carmona Báez said that “a country cannot rely on free market spirit during a pandemic. This is a global emergency. We need a strong government to intervene and a ministry that turns first to the university, the school boards and the teachers, while continuously informing parents”, said Carmona Báez.
The university executive also expressed his regret that the Minister of MECYS Rodolphe Samuel has not yet taken the time to meet with USM management and board.