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Space for over 2,000 migrant children in RC primary schools

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

More than 2,000 student spaces have been identified across the RC Primary School system for migrant children in the new academic year. There are 118 Catholic primary schools in T&T.

The Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) Chief Executive Officer Sharon Mangroo disclosed this figure.

On June 6, 2019, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at a post-Cabinet media briefing said “If the Catholic Church, in its pastoral work, gets involved with trying to educate the (Venezuelan) children who are not going to school, that is acceptable in T&T.” The government welcomed non-governmental organisations and others assisting migrant children to access an education.

“During this period, we identified schools in which there are spaces and where the principals are willing to accept the migrant children,” Mangroo told The Catholic News.

Since PM Rowley’s statement, the CEBM “has been working with the Trinidad and Tobago Education Working Group to facilitate the integration of migrant children”.

The stakeholders’ group seeks to identify opportunities for the delivery of education services to migrant children in Trinidad and Tobago. It is supported by the CEBM, the Living Water Community (LWC), the Ministry of Education (MoE), the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The CEBM partnered with UNICEF to provide physical resources —furniture, photocopiers, air-conditioning units, sanitation equipment and materials and bilingual signage to 16 schools.

Training in the Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) was accessed by 98 teachers from the schools prepared to receive the migrant children. This approach enables the teaching of content to students in a language other than their native tongue.

More teachers joined and 103 participated in training from The Caribbean Kids and Family Therapy Organisation (CKFTO) to recognise and address developmental challenges. The CEBM has been working closely with the LWC whose ‘Equal Place’ programme has been teaching the local curriculum in English to migrant children.

Mangroo said, “This will facilitate the first phase of integration into the prepared schools of children who speak English and are already familiar with the local curriculum. We are currently discussing with the Ministry of Education the concrete arrangements, its requirements, processes etc, for the children’s September entry to the schools that have been prepared.”

On April 12, Dr Amery Browne, Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, met with the Working Group to consider issues related to the provision of education services to migrant children and measures which could be taken to make education services more accessible to them.

Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon told a Parliament Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, Equality and Diversity-Treatment of Migrants on May 26: “We have the schools, space available that will not displace any national child from education, we have the teachers prepared and the principals prepared. What we can’t get is a mechanism to get these children into our schools to be educated.”

The US Embassy and Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V) hosted a Humanitarian Breakfast Series on July 13. The focus was on education. It was attended by Dr Browne and Minister of Social Development and Family Services Donna Cox.

Commenting on the work being done for migrant children to enter the primary school system, Minister Browne said, “Efforts are taking place for this to occur in the coming school year… at the primary level we can facilitate integration and access to public education by children of migrants.”

Browne said the MoE, the Prime Minister and Office of the Prime Minister were on board. “It is going to take some considerable work between now and then, so we can acknowledge language barriers and several other challenges, but these are not beyond our capacity to solve,” he is quoted in a Loop July 14 news report.

A release from the US Embassy on July 14 stated US Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago Candace Bond, and the R4V welcomed remarks from Dr Browne that T&T “is working towards a phased approach to integrate refugee and migrant children into the public school system”.

According to the release an estimated 5,000 children registered with UNHCR require access to national education in T&T. The majority are from Venezuela but there are migrants from other countries including Cuba, Jamaica, and Guyana.