By Drexwell Seymour
Should the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) government continue to invest in the expansion of classrooms for primary education or should the government expand the subsidy program for its citizens only?
This article is to address two main issues, the Long Bay Primary School and whether or not government should expand classrooms for primary education in the TCI. Let me say this, I believe that government has a responsibility to ensure that its citizens and legal residents can access proper facilities to obtain a good education from primary to tertiary. However, this does not necessarily mean that the Government has to build the facilities themselves. I also think it is unfair that non-citizens are benefiting more than the citizens from the current subsidy program.
Long Bay Primary School
I have said this several times on the Financially Speaking show and I will now document it here. I do not see the need to have a fourth public primary school on the island of Providenciales. Take a look at the other three schools on Providenciales and see who we are catering to. Why should the government invest in additional resources to build a fourth primary school when the majority of its citizens are going to a private school?
When the proposed school is completed, the locals will not move their children from the private school to attend the fourth primary school. They will not. Personally, I think those funds should have been used to build a technical school since we do not have any. Alternatively, the government could build a new school but rather than it being a fourth school, replace it with one of the three primary schools in Providenciales as these three primary schools are in urgent need for an upgrade.
Akierra Misick, the former minister of education, recently appeared on the Financially Speaking show and she said, as minister of education, she successfully negotiated for the funding from EDF11 for the construction of a fourth primary school. Misick stated that there was resistance or concerns from European Development Fund (EDF) in providing funding for additional classrooms so her and her ministry at that time demonstrated to them that this primary school would encompass and facilitate “special needs” children and early childhood education.
She further stated that the school was earmarked to be located in the vicinity of the Long Bay High School where there are 22 acres of property registered under the ministry of education. She envisioned the property to be used for a high school, a technical school and a primary school.
The current situation is that the current government has decided to proceed with the construction of a fourth primary school but this time the school will be located in the residential area of Long Bay. In fact, the property has already been cleared but there is a petition against the construction of the school in that area.
I cannot for the life of me figure out why our government would decide to change the location from the original plan. It just does not make any sense. First of all, the majority of the residents that are living in that area have their children in a private school. They are not going to attend this new school there. What will happen will be that the government will be bringing students into the area to attend the school there. Does it make sense?
Second of all, we need to empower our people. A lot of the residents have an opportunity in that area to get involve in short term rental. Do you think building a school in the area will give them this opportunity? Absolutely not. In fact, the value of their property will be reduced with a school in the area. Thirdly, many of the existing private schools will be forced to close down because some of the non-citizen children that are currently in private schools will go to proposed primary public school.
Collaborate and Partner with the Private Schools
Since we have so many private schools in TCI especially on the island of Providenciales, the government should consider another approach.
I know that the government currently has an agreement with six of the private schools whereby these schools take on students when the public schools are unable to accommodate them due to no additional space. The government pays the private school the cost of an untrained teacher, which is around $2,000 monthly, and parents pay between $100 to $150 a month depending on the grade the student is in.
What is interesting that some of these parents do not pay the $100-$150, stating that they are on government scholarships. What is more interesting is that most of the students on this program are non-citizens of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Why should the government provide a subsidy or scholarship to non-citizens?
While I support the subsidy concept, I think subsidy should not be given to non-citizens. The government needs to charge a fee for non-citizen students attending the public school. I believe that policy is in place but needs to be enforced. The government should not accept additional students once the school reaches its quota. If local parents are making a sacrifice to send their children to private schools, then non-citizens can do the same.
I further recommend that the government should provide a subsidy to the private primary schools but the subsidy should be restricted to citizens only. Non-citizens should not be given a subsidy. There are certain privileges that citizens should get and one of them should be a subsidy to attend a private school.
I believe that a criterion should be established in terms of the needs (such as level of income, the number of children a local family has attending a private primary school and special needs children) of a Turks and Caicos Islander citizen and based upon the needs, a voucher should be provided to family and that family will be entitled to a discount to attend a private school.
The government would pay for the voucher directly to the private school and the parent, of course, pay the difference. The government can also consider paying a portion of the teacher’s salary at the private school as long as the private school reduces its fee.
While I believe that everyone should be responsible for the education of their children, I believe that if non-citizens are getting free education in public schools and only have to pay $150 to attend a private school if the public school is full, then children of citizens of the TCI too deserve a subsidy too. For example, in the country of Belize, any subsidy provided is for the citizens of Belize only. We need to follow suit.