Statement
10 September 2018 - 1:34pm

MINISTER OF EDUCATION AND CULTURE HONOURABLE MYRON V. WALWYN
ON THE OCCASSION OF THE PROFESSIONAL DAY MEETING
MARKING THE BEGINNING OF THE2018 -2019 ACADEMIC YEAR

EILEENE L.  PARSONS AUDITORIUM
H. LAVITY STOUTT COMMUNITY COLLE

MONDAY, 10 SEPTEMBER, 2018

Good morning all.

It is indeed an honour to address you at the start of another school year. I am especially pleased to address you this morning as I get yet another opportunity to thank you and express my sincere appreciation for all you did over the past most difficult year. I know and the Government knows that you came out and performed against all odds, forgetting sometimes your own troubles and giving your all to keep schools going and ensuring that our young people continued their education operating under difficult conditions.  Your sacrifice did not go unnoticed. Your sacrifice ensured that our young people continued to build their foundation and stand a fighting chance in today’s world.

Welcome back to the new academic year after a very short break and I hope it was one that was rejuvenating or at the very least that you got some rest.

Much work has gone on over the year since the disasters. While to some it might seem that very little was done and while we are not where we would like to be, a tremendous amount has taken place. We certainly are not where we were a year ago. We have had many setbacks and many disappointments along the way, but we have not given up and we continue to fight.  Giving up is not an option and we cannot allow the critics/setbacks to keep us down as we have a responsibility to our charges and the community in general to continue the fight and give them the opportunities needed to prepare them for their own development and that of the Territory.

This academic year we will continue to refurbish and to rebuild our schools. As we speak, work is happening at the Robinson O’Neal Memorial Primary school to bring it to completion early in this term. Things are also moving at the Enid Scatliffe Pre-Primary School and we expect that school to be handed over to us very soon. With respect to other schools that were more severely damaged, the Ministry continues to work exciduously to access the funding for their redevelopment.

Unfortunately, the shift system will continue a little longer at the secondary level as we work to get the L-Shaped building at the ESHS campus completed as well as the BFEC Secondary school. I ask for your continued patience as we work through the details.

The work at the Leonora Delville Primary school is advancing and we are hopeful that the school will be ready for occupancy by the beginning of the school term. We suffered many setbacks with this project, particularly with the availability of essential materials to rebuild the school. At present, electrical works are being completed and the painting of the interior and exterior of the school should be on the way as we speak. I want to express my sincere appreciation to the teachers, parents and students for bearing with us as we worked to get things moving. While there are still things to be done, rest assured that we will be working diligently to have that school on par with all others.

The students from Cane Garden Bay will continue to attend school at Leonora Delville as we are still working through a number of things at the Ivan Dawson School. The most recent rains made it clear that there is need to take another look at the plans to ensure that the school does not continue to have these reoccurring flooding issues. It was our desire to have the school completed and the volunteers working there had assured us that it would be completed for the opening of school but with the recent flooding I would rather have our students in an environment free from flooding and therefore we are working on getting this rectified as best we can.

I must once again take this opportunity to thank all our donors who came forward with their generous offers to rebuild schools or to assist with refurbishing or to donate school supplies or equipment. These partnerships have been instrumental in helping us to get to where we are today.

Schools that were deemed usable will continue to receive maintenance improvements throughout the year. The Ministry carried out a detailed assessment of all the schools that were occupied after the hurricanes and in conjunction with the principals, remedial works will continue on the basis of priority.

In spite of the hardships, we also experienced some successes over the last year. For example: we were the first and only country in the region to do our CXC examinations by e-testing and from the results our children did well. I offer congratulations to all candidates as well as to the teachers involved as you were instrumental in preparing our students. Our students did an excellent job in the debates as well as coming up with their version of the recovery plan.

As we move into the new academic year, we will continue to build on technology as we expand the usage of digital textbooks to our Grade 9 students.  We will also be using the chrome-books donated by the Jarecki Foundation and the McLain Foundation through UniteBVI for our senior students who will be able to access the CXC Learning Hub as well as rent their textbooks online.  We recognize how expensive textbooks can be and aim to assist our students and parents as much as possible to achieve their goals by helping them to have access to the tools they need for success.

We have been in constant contact with the Caribbean Examinations Council about the progress of the book rental online portal as we would like to provide immediate relief to the parents in the community with the purchasing of books.  Many of these parents we know may not be working at this time and have other immediate priorities that they have to address as well.

We will expand the foreign language programme in our schools.  Our French programme that was started in Grade 7 last school year will now advance to include Grade 8 in this school year.

We were well on our way to having Mandarin as part of our school system prior to Hurricane Irma. The lecturers were in place, and the agreement with the Chinese Education Consulate in the UK was already signed , the Chinese Embassy was paying those teachers and we only had the responsibility to provide accommodation. It is my endeavor to get this done and get it done before this academic year comes to an end.

Professional development will continue especially in the areas of the teaching of mathematics and reading. An analysis of the performance over the last year shows that our students are still struggling in these areas and so it is critical that we find ways to bring about improvement.

With no Summer Institute at the start of the school year, it is expected that professional development will be conducted in focus groups by subjects, grade levels and topics throughout the year.  The second cohort of the NCEL training for school leaders will also be completed.

Along with the coordinated ministry level sessions, each principal will also be expected to engage staff members in regular Professional Development sessions, updating them on current trends in education and addressing pedagogical weaknesses. These are opportunities to hone your skills and remain on the cutting edge to better help the students who are in your charge.

In the month of October, there are scheduled training for the Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment (CPEA) and The Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence (CCSLC) which will be used as Key Stage Assessments at Grade 6 and Grade 9.  Key stage assessments were implemented in 2014 and they serve to measure the Grade level competencies of students at Grades 2, 4, 6, and 9. As we utilise the CXC examinations, not only will we have a local measure, but we will be able to see how our students are comparing to their peers around the region. 

As we make this investment in our educators and children, I know we will see positive changes in our system. I must reiterate again that the Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment (CPEA) is not a reintroduction of the Primary 5 examination, it is another tool by which we can measure our students against their counterparts in other parts of the Caribbean and it will provide important feedback for our education system so that we would know, from an external source what we need to improve upon.

Part of the focus of the Ministry of Education is to ensure life-long learning in our community whether through the formal education system or outside of it.  We have recognised, particularly through the work done by the Youth Employment Services in the Ministry of Education that a number of young people who are having difficulties finding jobs do not possess a high school diploma. Many of them were the students who attended the institution at Baughers Bay before it was transformed into the Virgin Islands School of Technical Studies.  We cannot afford to have so many of our young people without a high school diploma as it will stunt their growth in so many areas of their lives.  While we do have the Alternative Secondary Education Programme, or what we commonly call night school, we need something more.

We need a programme that can meet our students where they are and that can provide another pathway to getting their high school certificate rather than having them complete night school for two or three years. And so, on October 15th, we will be launching our version of what the American system calls the GED.  We are developing a high school certificate programme with the use of the Learning Hub and weekly tutorials to help persons in our community who do not have a high school diploma to get one. The instructions will be given in the four core subjects of mathematics, English language, social studies and science.  Examinations will be administered twice a year  in February and October and if those candidates pass the exams in these four areas, they will be awarded a high school certificate.

I see this programme as being helpful to persons in the sister islands who could not make it to Tortola to attend night school. I see this programme being helpful to persons who work in the privately owned daycare centres who do not have a high school diploma. I see this programme being helpful to the inmates in Her Majesty's Prison as part of the rehabilitation programme there. I see this programme being a second chance for those persons in our community who did not take high school seriously or had other challenges that deferred their goals.  We will be calling on some of you teachers to assist with the weekly tutorials and will be providing an honorarium for your efforts.  The more persons we have in the Territory with a high school diploma, the better it is for their personal development and the development of the Virgin Islands.

If you know of persons who are in need of a high school diploma and would like to avail themselves of this new programme, please direct them to Mrs. Connie George, the Chief Education Officer, Dr. Laverne Challwell-Brewley, the Deputy Chief Education Officer or Mrs. Lelia Burke, the Examinations Officer.

As Minister for Education, I have mandated the development of school gardens in all schools in the Territory. All schools have already been given notice of this imperative and I expect it to be carried out, and carried out well. I do not think that we have to explain to anyone, especially after the situation we found ourselves in after  Hurricane Irma, how much more we need to do in the area of food security.  Education is about preparing our students for life and living and we all know one cannot live without food. School gardens are an excellent tool for experien-tial learning and nutrition education as well as nurturing for entrepreneurial and agricultural skills.

I want to thank the organisation Green V.I. for coming on board with this initiative and who have already started to assist three schools with setting up their gardens Ebenezer Thomas Primary and Francis Lettsome Primary on Tortola and Bregado Flax Primary on Virgin Gorda.  I would also like to thank one of our leading farmers in the Virgin Islands, Ms. Moviene Fahie for the assistance that she continues to give to our schools in the agricultural sector.  I want to encourage as many farmers as possible to get on board and assist us at the various community schools to help to revive the agricultural sector.

Our theme for this school year is, “Be Disciplined: Achieve Excellence.” This is a Territory wide call for change in this regard. While I know that our teachers will continue to do all that they can to instill the virtues of discipline, integrity, honesty and the like in our students, It is by itself a very difficult task.  These values are values that really should be taught at home but unfortunately, education seems to be, in the minds of many, a panacea for almost every social ill. It has become so easy for people to say put this in the curriculum, put that in the curriculum.

If we include every single issue that arises in the community in the school curriculum we will end up being a jack of all trades and master of none. I am making a clarion call to all community-minded persons and groups and the various communities to work along with us to develop programmes to assist in instilling very critical values that our children need.  The education system cannot do it on its own. And so, I was very pleased when discussions were had with the New Life Baptist Church about the implementation of their core values programme in our schools.

Schools are a reflection of the community, particularly in the area that they reside and we have seen some very disturbing trends in certain schools in certain communities.  I have asked the Chief Education Officer to ensure that this core values programme is in place in this term of the academic year.  I am asking all teachers to do your best to help with the implementation of this much needed programme.

Teachers, again I want to thank you all so very much for your hard work and things that you continue to do to set up our students for success so that they can lead productive lives and make their contributions to the development of our country.  We will have more meetings very shortly where all our plans for this new academic year will be discussed in greater detail.  I wish you a successful 2018/2019 academic school year and may God continue to bless you and keep you.

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