PHILIPSBURG–United People’s (UP) Party on Monday, levelled criticism against Government for its recently launched “Education on the Move (EOM)” campaign, an initiative focussed on literacy and geared towards raising awareness about education and its importance.
UP said the educational initiative was a “campaign ploy” by Education Minister Silveria Jacobs.
However, in an invited comment, Jacobs said “it was rather disappointing” that such a positive initiative is being touted by the opposition as a political move, especially seeing the opposition’s recent, “obvious interference in ongoing discussions in education, as well as the school bussing issue.
“If the UP feels that this promotion of education is political, it is only because that may have been their motivation, had they thought of it,” the minister said, noting that she stands on principle of working towards improving all areas within the Ministry she is charged with. “The Minister of Education is and always has been an educator at heart and is solely motivated by this fact to work together with others to bring improvements to education in order to meet the needs of our population.”
UP said in a press release that the education initiative “wreaks nothing short of a campaign ploy on the eve of a critical parliamentary election for our country.”
UP said while the campaign alludes to reading, Jacobs’ “support and visibility” at schools had been zero. UP alleged that in August, school would be disrupted for a rally, “with no tangible objective to remedy the issues affecting education. We simply do not condone this, as disrupting valuable teachable hours for our children in classrooms is of paramount importance to their continued educational growth,” UP said.
It should be noted that the members of the EOM committee who came up with the programme are teachers themselves. Jacobs said she has been a reading volunteer at her son’s school and never took a picture to make a political statement.
“The Minister has always supported reading initiatives whether in or out of government, reading at literacy events, whether at the Library or just recently at USM. The Minister has consistently sought the support of other parents and volunteers to give their time to the youth, whether in schools, after school activities or organised sports and arts.”
Jacobs said it was through this initiative that she charged her staff to establish a committee which would work on the promotion of education within the community, noting that the “how” was left up to the committee members. “The Minister challenged schools and members of the community to “drop everything and read” on Friday last as a first activity of the Education on the Move Committee and because it was not done for political gain, did not see fit to go to schools and take pictures doing so. However, the Minister did encourage schools and parents to post pictures of them-selves reading.”
UP said Jacobs had been critical of its Member of Parliament (MP) Tamara Leonard who had met with public school teachers recently over some of their concerns. The party claimed that “nothing of substance is coming out of the education ministry” and said “we are calling on the general public to remain vigilant of these apparent campaign ploys as the Minister’s postponement of extended hours for public education schools adds to the list. Wasn’t it this same education minister that initiated the idea for extended school hours for public education schools? Our education system is moving back under this current minister.”
In reaction to the UP statement, Jacobs said she has always sought to bring more voices into the discussion before decisions are taken, sought the approval and input of those expected to carry out initiatives and worked towards same whether in or out of government. She said many of the initiatives now coming to fruition were part of her priorities since 2012, which started with education conferences at all levels. “Some of the initiatives have progressed while others had slowed down due to changing priorities with the changes in government over the years.”
Jacobs said her priorities remain the Education Care Center, more after school programmes, Information Technology (IT) in the classrooms and more opportunities for students’ needs in special education, sports and arts, as well as the extension of the school day.
The implementation of the extended school day had to be postponed due to lack of clarity among stakeholders including teachers and parents, budget constraints, as well as the environment of current classrooms not being up to par. “All these issues must be dealt with before we can execute the extension of the school day in a responsible manner.”
She thanked the EOM Committee for “standing together as educators” and for meeting weekly to come up with ways to motivate the community to be more involved in education and to motivate teachers and educators to keep on giving their all. “Their dedication to achieving this goal continues to inspire the Minister even in the light of the political games that continue to be played with such sensitive topics. Do not be discouraged by those who seek to derail your vision,” Jacobs said.
As it related to the issue with public school teachers Jacobs said she “did not run to the papers crying politics when the opposition sought to cause discord among teachers. She simply met with teachers and management to reassure them that the organisation was diligently working on their concerns.
Nor did the Minister neglect to meet with the school bus owners association once she realised that the policy framework and terms of reference that had been approved by the UP-led government (August 2015) had not included any discussion with the school bus owners and that the TEATT Ministry was actually working on its own policy and presented it to the school bus owners in October of 2015.
“The Minister just sought to clarify the situation to all concerned, after realising that the former government’s two ministries were not working together to resolve the school bussing challenges and halted the process to allow collaboration,” Jacobs said.