Almost twenty years in power, the Unity Labour Party (ULP)regime continues to blame the former New Democratic Party (NDP)government for anything that goes wrong in the country. The claim by the ULP that the former NDP government did not repair the schools is bogus. Why do you want to blame the NDP for your failure? Despite the disingenuous claims by spokespersons for the ULP government, the NDP has been at the vanguard of education development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and has done more than any other government in this country to help bring education to the poor and working class.
The NDP understanding well that the way out of poverty has to be through education. Upon taking office in 1984, we did a preliminary assessment of the entire education system. The government had at its disposal the Fordham report, a study financed and undertaken by UNESCO on behalf of the former Labour Party government. The damning evidence of years of neglect of the education system in St. Vincent and the Grenadines shocked the then Labour government that the report was shelved instantly and its recommendations never implemented. The NDP government took the bulls by the horn; followed the Fordham report and proceeded with an in-depth examination of the education system.
It was clear that the structure of administration and management of education was as irrelevant and outmoded as was the antiquated Education Act of 1937 and related regulations which were guiding the system. Further, the startling revelation from the Fordham report was that 60% of our school plant was grossly overcrowded. It is now history the NDP government implemented a shift system in schools to facilitate an on-going rehabilitation and expansion of schools programme without having to close any school. The result of the exercise was the rehabilitation of the nation’s schools by a committed NDP government. It is even more remarkable to note that the NDP government rebuilt/refurbish the island’s school plant most of which was local funding.
The teaching service suffered numerous problems: poor teacher- student ratio, 1:45 or more. Only 28% trained teachers were in the primary schools, very limited intake into the Teachers’ College system, overcrowded and inhospitable schools, pregnant untrained teachers were forced to resign, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union was not recognised and hence no possibility of bargaining for improved conditions. Teachers were being transferred far away from their homes, very little upward mobility and teachers of Technical Vocational subjects were not regarded as equal to teachers of academic subjects. Therefore, training opportunities for the latter were few and far between.
The disparity in education as seen by a great many people created a profound bias against Technical Vocational Education. This could not have been real as all students needed a common basic preparation for any education stream. The Ministry of Education announced formally the introduction of the core subjects of English, Mathematics, Social Studies and a Science – based
subject. These subjects had to be pursued by all students regardless of whether they were in the pure academics stream or in the Technical Vocational stream. Having taken stock of what there was and where we were in education and having put the building blocks in place it was time to establish a sure foundation for a secure programme for the development of education. The NDP government then published in 1995 a National Education Policy which enshrines among other things, a philosophy and a Mission Statement.
The seventeen years of the NDP administration has been a watershed years period for education in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A world of events took place in a relatively short period of time. The signing of the first-ever collective agreement with the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union; the repeal of the Coutts Agreement which required unmarried pregnant teachers to resign their jobs; the implementation of a schools’ radio programme on NBC Radio through the Education Media Unit; the introduction of the University of the West Indies Distance Teaching Experiment (UWIDITE) via satellite and the standardization of textbooks in primary and secondary schools.
The NDP government also introduced the National Student Loan Scheme. Funds for the scheme were originally provided by the National Insurance scheme and on loan to students by participating financial institutions. It was the NDP government which began to pay for the economic cost for all students who attend the University of the West Indies. We established the School Feeding Programme and the Book Loan Scheme. And constructed phase one of the Community College. Phase one of the Community College was the beginning of the integrated multidisciplinary, autonomous, tertiary level institution which the NDP government had declared would be the bringing together under one umbrella management of the post-secondary academics training, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Technical College, the Teachers’ College and the School of Nursing.
The work of the NDP government in education has been perhaps the best -kept secret during its seventeen years in office. This was not the expected behaviour of any political establishment but the truth is the NDP was so very much at home doing things for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it saw no need to keep trumpeting its cause. For this reason, the NDP never before trumpeted the fact that St. Vincent and the Grenadines was one of the few countries in the Caribbean to use bonds and local budgetary resources to finance education and proudly through budget surpluses. The NDP’s record in education is an enviable one of which the party can be justly proud.
The NDP is committed to further develop the education system in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We have had a proven track record when we were in office. The record is there to show. We will work even harder to provide access and quality education to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.