Esteemed educators, parents, students, fellow Saint Lucians. It is with great pleasure that I address you at the beginning of another academic year. A year that promises unprecedented levels of growth and innovation in the education sector.
As we embark on this journey together, I am excited to share some important developments that will shape the course of education in the weeks and months ahead.
Firstly, let me re-affirm our government’s commitment and dedication to reforming the national education landscape.
I wish also to emphasize that successful transformations are contingent on having a shared vision and the collaboration of all stakeholders.
I must commend the commitment of our Education Officers, principals, teachers, ancillary staff, our parents and very importantly our students who continue to strive for excellence.
As a new academic year begins, I encourage all stakeholders to join me and the management team of the Ministry of Education in playing our part in re-defining and advancing the education sector in Saint Lucia.
Our government continues to demonstrate its commitment to education as a priority area of programming by way of new policies and increased budgetary allocations.
This academic year, early childhood education will be a main area of focus for the Ministry of Education.
We remain steadfast in our commitment to early childhood education and we are excited for the 150 Pre-k students who have enrolled at the nine newly commissioned pre-k classrooms at established primary schools throughout the country.
As promised, we have reinstated the one laptop per child programme and to date, every child in the secondary school system is a recipient of a government-issued laptop computer.
Every one of the approximately 2000 students entering form one should have received a brand-new laptop at orientation.
This academic year, special provisions have been made for form fives who were the recipients of Lernbooks – the majority of which became dysfunctional and did not adequately serve their intended purpose.
Every fifth form student has been issued a brand-new laptop to facilitate SBAs and general learning support.
Students are reminded that the devices are to be used to support academic pursuits and that they must take responsibility for their upkeep and maintenance.
This academic year, in excess of 2 million dollars has been set aside as facilities fees for primary and secondary school students at government institutions.
We will once again meet the cost of CXC CSEC Mathematics and English for every form five student in the public-school system.
It is the intention of Prime Minister Philip J Pierre that in the not too distant future, his government will be in the position to absorb all CXC CSEC Exam related costs.
Simply put, it is our intention that students in the not too distant future will write all CXC CSEC subjects for which they qualify, at no cost to the student or parents.
The Ministry of Education continues to accentuate the one university graduate per household initiative.
It is exciting to see the number of persons who are desirous of pursuing tertiary level education and I commend all those who will apply and benefit from the various scholarships, bursaries, grants and other higher educational forms of support that the Ministry of Education makes available to them.
In recent months, there has been an exponential increase in the number of Saint Lucians being granted scholarships to pursue higher education both at home and abroad.
I am particularly delighted with the progress we’ve made in rolling out the first-generation scholarship programme with Monroe College where more than 100 first generation scholars have enrolled in university programmes offered at that institution.
We continue to provide support to students pursuing studies with the University of the West Indies.
In addition to the economic cost awards available to Saint Lucian students at the landed campuses namely Cave Hill. St. Augustin and the Mona Campus, Cabinet has made it possible for UWI Open Campus students to benefit from the government’s higher education assistance program.
Our teachers continue to be important pillars of the education system!
Our government is fully aware of the sacrifices that teachers make in sourcing instructional aid and learning support items using their own resources.
Consequently, we have increased the Teaching Material Allowance (TMA) given to teachers by $600. Every teacher in the system whether permanent or temporary will receive the TMA.
As Minister of Education, I am fully aware of the state of some of our school buildings and at every opportunity, with the support of my cabinet colleagues I endeavor to make improvements within the confines of available resources.
Although there were challenges with the summer works programme where school buildings are rehabilitated to ensure the best comfort levels for students and teachers, I am happy to report that ALL primary and secondary schools will open tomorrow Monday September 4, 2023 as per schedule.
You would have noted that Tropical Storm Bret roughly four months ago inflicted damage to many of our school buildings – some more severely impacted than others.
The Vieux Fort Primary School, the Belle Vue Combined, the Vieux Fort Post-Secondary and the Mongouge Combined School in Choiseul suffered the most damage. Whilst rehabilitation work is still ongoing at those schools, adequate measures have been put in place to ensure normal operations.
School security remains a priority for the Ministry of Education.
We wish to re-assure parents, student and staff at our schools that the recommendations from the recently conducted security audit are being implemented as creating a safe and conducive school environment remains a major priority for us at the Ministry of Education.
However, as we celebrate the accomplishments of the past and look forward to a better future for education, I am deeply saddened to share that our extended education family has also suffered losses.
We mourn the recent and sudden passing of two of our teachers, who dedicated their lives to shaping young minds and nurturing the leaders of tomorrow.
Mr. O’neal Fontenelle of the Belle Vue Combined School and Mr. Sherman Slyvester of the Babonneau Secondary School both passed away during the month of August. Their contributions will forever be etched in the legacy of our educational journey.
I wish to extend heartfelt condolences to their families and colleagues and may their souls rest in peace.
As we stand on the cusp of this new academic year, let us embrace it as a year of change, opportunity, fulfillment and hope. Let us enthusiastically step into this school year with grace and confidence, believing that we can achieve anything that we set our minds to achieve.
To our students I say, the government continues to invest heavily in your education and so I encourage you to make the most of the opportunities at your disposal and make this year one of excellence.
Approach your schoolwork seriously, obey your teachers, parents and other authority figures.
Respect your peers and demonstrate your love for country by adhering to school rules and the laws of our country.
Let your brilliance and creativity shine.
Parents, play your part in being that pillar of support for your child. Do not leave the education of your child entirely to principals and teachers.
Yours is an invaluable role in the nurturing of your child. Be that listening ear. Be that arm of comfort and that voice of reason. Make your child’s education a priority.
Give them the support they require from home and pay special attention to what you pack in the lunch bags. Do not feed your child foods that do not contain the nutrients necessary for young health bodies.
Our psycho-social support team, led by Mrs Joycelyn Eugene, will give their full support in that regard.
It is important that we create and maintain healthy school environments.
From the Ministry of Education, we will endeavor to lead with humility compassion and empathy this school year. Our newly appointed Chief Education Officer, Beverly Dieudonne will ensure that the highest standards of excellence are achieved and maintained.
As I thank all our stakeholders, in particular, the National Principals Association and the Saint Lucia Teachers Union for their support and collaboration in the fulfilment of our mandate, I look forward to an academic year where we will build on the gains of previous years.
As we navigate this journey together, let us remain steadfast in our commitment to nurturing young minds, embracing change, and fostering a culture of lifelong learning.
Together, we can create a future where every child’s potential is realized, where innovation thrives, and where our nation’s educational landscape shines as a beacon of hope and progress.
Thank you, and may this academic year be one of growth, transformation and success.