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 RC Schools to help educate migrant children

Archbishop Jason Gordon sees an opportunity to be seized with migrant children being allowed to access education at RC schools.

During CatholicTT’s Ask the Archbishop Facebook Live programme on Wednesday, September 30, he alluded to an initiative to promote Spanish.

This was a secretariat, launched March 22, 2005 for the Implementation of Spanish. It was created to promote Spanish as the First Foreign Language Initiative and seen as necessary with increased trade, educational, cultural and business relations with TT’s Spanish-speaking neighbours of the south. Archbishop Gordon said now was the “best opportunity to have a whole generation speaking Spanish”.

He said sometime last year he met with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley who asked if the Catholic Church would be responsible for the education of migrant children.  “We’ve been working out the protocol to make this happen,” he said.

He revealed there was space in 70 RC schools without any TT national being deprived of a place. Archbishop Gordon said the Archdiocese was working with UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and other agencies. He added that the children would first be helped with learning English “then get them into a school and then some support for the learning in the school in English. Children tend to be very flexible and learn real quick, especially language.”

He was hopeful there would be quick benefits as the Spanish speakers learnt English and the English-speaking children learnt Spanish. Archbishop Gordon envisioned teachers facilitating the exchange by allowing the Spanish speakers a designated time daily to lead a class in Spanish. “The kids pick up an oral version of Spanish so that they can become functional in Spanish. Imagine five and six and seven year olds becoming functional in Spanish,” he said.

Archbishop Gordon said there were qualified teachers from Venezuela in Trinidad and if some of them could be employed in schools they would be able to assist with the Spanish-speaking children and help pass on the Spanish language to the locals. “…have teachers who can speak both languages well and really drill those children in Spanish when their brains are like a sponge and they could absorb quickly and easily. That would be revolutionary.”

Archbishop Gordon envisioned there could be students entering the secondary school system doing Ordinary Level Spanish and already being fluent in conversational Spanish.

“Think in 15 years’ time we will have a generation of citizens fluent and comfortable in Spanish then we can open south-south trade alliance and Latin America is right there. Therefore, we can become a hub for Latin America,” he said. Migrants should not be seen as a “big challenge” but people who come with their gifts. Archbishop Gordon asked, “Do we have the imagination to harness it?”

At a meeting online with Catholic teachers on Tuesday, September 29, Archbishop Gordon mentioned working out the “logistics” with the government for the entry of migrant children into RC schools. He asked for them to be welcomed.  “We are going to do whatever we can to support you when you welcome kids in. We can’t have children in the country who will have no education. That will be a disaster,” he said.

Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice Leela Ramdeen said the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), has indicated there were more than 3,200 migrant children, including 2,421 whose parents were among the 15,523 who took part in the registration exercise for Venezuelans last year. Ramdeen said the Prime Minister has publicly stated the Catholic Church will take care of the education of migrant children. However, “whether registered or not, their children cannot enter our school system, even though the Catholic Education Board of Management has identified spaces in some of our schools”.

The National Security Ministry has to give the directive for this to be permitted by the Chief Immigration Officer.