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They’re our schools, our responsibility’

Sharon Mangroo, Chief Executive of the Catholic Education Board of Management

CEBM pleas for parishioners to offer more support to RC schools

As Trinidad and Tobago prepared for the reopening of primary schools, Sharon Mangroo, the Chief Executive Officer of the Catholic Education Board of Management, joined Altos’ set September 1 to discuss the state of readiness of the nation’s primary schools, specifically focusing on Catholic schools.

Mangroo began by acknowledging that while no school can ever be 100 per cent ready, the Catholic Education Board is working diligently to ensure that schools are as prepared as possible.

She expressed confidence that the majority of schools would be ready to reopen, with the exception of St Rose’s, which faces structural issues.

Regarding St Rose’s, she explained that the school had been deemed structurally unsound, prompting the Ministry of Education to initiate repairs. However, the National Trust intervened, preventing the demolition of the school. The school is currently awaiting quotations for restoration costs, and alternative solutions are being explored to accommodate the affected students.

The interview delved into the perennial issue of school repairs, with Mangroo explaining the process involved. “They start with having to scope the work that needs to be done. And so, during the year, they would have been collecting (information on) repairs that need to be done. And so then once school closes, they scope the works, and the Ministry of Education tenders. And then once a contract is awarded, work can actually start.”

She highlighted the challenges faced, including delays in awarding tenders, contractor mobilisation, and the limitation of performing repairs only during school closures.

The conversation extended to concerns about furniture shortages in schools, with the interruption of production during the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbating the issue.

Mangroo mentioned that the Ministry of Education is working to provide additional furniture to schools. However, she emphasised the need for greater parish involvement and contributions to support Catholic schools.

“Yes, the Ministry of Education contributes to the upkeep of the schools, but they are our schools….our responsibility as Catholics cannot begin and end by just walking into the church and walking out after Mass.

“We have a responsibility. These are our schools, and we need to contribute to them as well. The purpose of this school is to take the Word of God  to the children. That’s the main purpose of this school and we can’t do that if we do not provide proper conditions. But also, if we are not really interested in every single child, every single teacher that is in that school.”

Another crucial topic covered was the education of migrant children in Catholic primary schools. She mentioned that assessments had been conducted to gauge English competency and that approximately 116 children qualified for student permits, pending approval from the Ministry of National Security.

“Because according to our law, once there  is a non-national seeking to access education, formal education, at any institution, public, private, anything, they must have a student permit. And so, we have provided all of the groundwork that we can.”

Spaces have been identified in schools, teachers were trained, and some furniture provided with help from UNICEF. As it stands now, the Ministry of Education is in talks with the Ministry of National Security, “and they need to give us the final word,” Mangroo said.

Teachers have also been trained in the area of trauma and dealing with children who have been through trauma. She added, “And we have done some orientation programmes for these schools as well. We will do more. We will be providing a good bit more support.”