PHILIPSBURG – Minister of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sports Silveria Jacobs addressed the media in Wednesday’s, June 21, Council of Ministers Press Briefing.
She first congratulated graduating students saying, “I would like us as a community to recognize and applaud them, but also to encourage them to never stop learning, to become lifelong learners.”
She also informed that the school-leaving ceremonies of each school is now a separate event. “We are not having the public school ceremony as one joint ceremony any longer, giving the school the opportunity to host their own school-leaving exercises in a way that is more personal, gives a personal touch for the school, parents and students and staff to be able to recognize the achievements of the students,” the Minister stated.
In addition, the FBE results are being analyzed and discussed, and the Division of Exams has highlighted the top students. An awards ceremony for the top students of the country will take place towards the end of June or the beginning of July.
“As government I have also pledged to award the top students of each of the elementary schools, but the particulars of how that will take place still have to be finalized. So we are trying to create incentives for our students to continue to excel,” Minister Jacobs informed.
The Minister said different types of initiatives are in play, “that we hope to be able to promote further in having our cultural heritage promoted in having music and arts and sports play a larger role within the lives of our children.”
“Funding always remains a problem with that and creativity is always at the top of the agenda in how to make it possible because there are always more requests than we can handle,” Minister Jacobs noted.
In mentioning Government’s financial constraints, the Minister also addressed the bussing issue. “Together with Ministry of TEATT, we have been looking at ways to streamline also the school bussing budget, and I know that has come up several times. So we are at a point now where we have made assessments of the service being provided. I have had several legal advices from Legal Affairs as it pertains to the way forward in putting more structure in the service that is being provided,” Minister Jacobs stated.
“The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sports is charged with the transportation of children who otherwise would not be able to get to school. We’ve been doing it island-wide free of charge for parents, which is being paid by the taxpayers’ dollars under a system where we have had very little accountability and regulation. So in our efforts to stimulate more accountability, more efficiency, we together with the Ministry of TEATT are looking to tighten policies,” the Minister continued.
Minister Jacobs further informed that “the budget is already much smaller so we are already running into serious issues, and so several changes can be expected because as a Ministry we have to choose how we’re going to spend our funds. And I would really much prefer as a Ministry to spend the money to promote education to have the necessary programs for special needs learners in place.”
“We have several innovations starting this year, more afterschool programs as part of a plan, but if we then have to divert those funds to be able to pay for school bussing, which we cannot guarantee is taking place, then I consider that a colossal waste of money. So in the weeks to come we will definitely be informing the operators, who have so far been carrying out this service, of some of the changes that are to come, as well as the schools and parents…So we need to analyze as a community who needs to use the bus based on governmental support as it pertains to who can afford to use the bus, and who can contribute to that out of pocket. So this is how we are trying to address this situation without ‘upsetting the apple cart’ too much. But I think you have to give Jack his jacket, and if we are overpaying for service it has to be addressed,” Minister Jacobs explained.
“Change is not easy, but if we decide we are going to improve on our services and utilize our funds in a more efficient and effective manner, these are the things that as a Ministry and as a government we have taken decisions to move forward with,” she said.
In the area of Sports, the Minister highlighted that for the second year in a row the Oualichi Women’s Soccer Association hosted an international competition with teams from Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. The teams visited St. Maarten to compete against the St. Maarten team. This event took place June 23-25, at Raoul Illidge Sports complex and opening was set to start at 7:00pm.
The Minister also informed that the Secretary General of UNESCO of the Netherlands is visiting the Dutch Caribbean islands and was in St. Maarten Friday, June 23. The Minister met with her to discuss the past year relations to education, culture and other areas and what assistance supports St. Maarten had received from UNESCO, and whether technical assistance capacity development funding can be collaborated on.
Also, the Youth Department, every year, runs it Business and Outreach Program (BOP), which is a summer program where students get internships in government departments. Three days of workshops for the students, who have qualified, commenced from Wednesday, June 21, at the University of St. Martin (USM) at 2:00pm.
The Minister thanked all the stakeholders who contributed and the businesses who make the BOP program possible. “Government subsidizes that program, but it would not be possible without willing businesses and other stakeholders to employ the students, guide the students, and I wish the students much success and that they would take this time to utilize it as a means of getting a foot in the door, if they are towards the end of their studies, or to see and explore opportunities for work in their future,” Minister Jacobs stated.
St. Maarten is celebrating Emancipation Day on July 1. The chosen theme is: “Breaking the Silence.” “For our part of the celebration and in the afternoon session, which is hosted by Voices, it will be under the theme of ‘family legacy,’” the Minister informed. This day will consist of a church service, laying of wreaths at various historical locations including a performance ceremony leading up to a parade to the Emilio Wilson Park, where the cultural manifestation there will start at 3:00pm until 6:00pm.
Lastly, Minister Jacobs commended USM on having guest lecturer Dr. Weiner hold a discussion on decolonizing the education system of St. Maarten. “I throw it out there that we need to look at decolonizing a lot more than our education system, and I think Emancipation Day would be an excellent day to really get that going,” the Minister concluded.