Citizens and residents of the Virgin Islands, I am Myron V. Walwyn, Territorial Representative and Minister for Education, Culture, Youth Affairs and Sports. As we stand together during what is considered to be the most crucial time in our development as a Territory due to the passing of hurricanes Irma and Maria, we continue to be faced with significant challenges to overcome.
We have lost a lot my people. But we have an opportunity to gain much more and we must seize that opportunity. We have the opportunity of a lifetime to collectively rebuild our country in the way in which we want it to be. There are many things pre hurricanes Irma and Maria that we didn’t do right as a Territory and we now have a chance to reset the button and correct those things. We have an opportunity to properly organise and foster the re-development of the new Territory of the Virgin Islands together. So even in our despair I am encouraged and I ask you to join this government and I with that same level of enthusiasm so that we can rebuild together!
We are now in the early stages of our recovery plan and we see education as an indispensable feature in this regard. I have been holding meetings with my senior staff from a few days following Irma and we have held meetings with other external agencies in an effort to get the education sector moving again.
We have had meetings and conversations with external non-governmental agencies such as Convoy of Hope, UNICEF, Arkansas University, University of the West Indies, Bitter End Yacht Club as well as the Caribbean Association of Secondary School Principals, ADRA, OECS, CARICOM, Florida Cruise Line, Caribbean Examination Council and also the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines All of these organistions have offered assistance to us in the area of educational support and I am truly grateful for all of their offers.
I must also express my profound gratitude to Road Town Wholesale and OneMart Superstore who continue to support us. As recent as yesterday I received a donation of 5 generators to support our effort to get schools restarted as soon as possible.
In addition, we also have the support of other organisations that will assist with cleanup and rebuilding. Those organisations include: Team Rubicon, Catholic Relief Services, STRE, Red Cross International and persons of the UK Military.
I can confirm that the following donations have been pledged and some have been shipped already:
- School-in-a-box-kits with items for teachers to use in classes
- Recreational kits
- Early Childhood Development kits
- Water filters
- Sanitation supplies
- Water and milk
- Water tanks to be used at school locations
- Portable bathrooms
- Large tents
- Laptops, Tablets and other technology assistance
- Cleanup assistance
Through an assessment of Schools and structures managed by the Ministry, we have determined that the following schools will be used to commence the 2017/2018 academic school year on a shift system basis. They are:
- Willard Wheatley Primary School
- Virgin Islands School of Technical Studies
- Althea Scatliffe Primary School
- Ebenezer Thomas Primary School
- Francis Lettsome Primary School
- Joyce Samuel Primary School
- Claudia Creque Educational Centre
- Bregado Flax Educational Centre – Primary Division
- Alexandrina Maduro Primary School
- Ivan Dawson Primary School
It is important to note that the 2017/2018 academic year will not flow in its usual way. All time lost in terms of days will be made up throughout the academic year, so both teachers and students will have reduced end of term breaks to make up for the loss of time. The term dates for the 2017/2018 academic year are as follows:
- Advent Term – November 6 – February 2
- Lent Term – February 12 – May 4
- Trinity Term – May 14 – July 20
- Advent Term Break – February 5 – February 9
- Lent Term Break – May 7 – May 11
- Graduation Week – July 23 – July 27
- Summer Break – July 27 – August 24
- Professional Day for Educators – August 27
We have had conversations with the BVI Electricity Corporation and they are making the schools that have been deemed usable a priority so that we can have access to necessities like electricity and water in an effort to have a conducive learning environment for our students.
I wish to highlight that the Government fully understands that everyone is in a different position than they were in prior to September 6. Based on our initial assessment, we will be supporting the healthy development and educational needs of our students with the following opportunities:
- Through the support of agencies like Convoy of Hope and UNICEF, beginning October 5 we will be ensuring that all children ages 3 – 8 years old will receive daily learning sessions and meals between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. at centres that will be set up around the Territory in the various districts as a means to provide some level of normalcy for our students and their parents. This service will also be available to students that attended the Eslyn Henley Richez Learning Centre.
- The Early Childhood centres will be located at the following locations:
- Capoon’s Bay Basketball Court
- Sea Cows Bay Methodist Church
- Old Recreation Grounds
- Baugher’s Bay Basketball Court
- East End Football Grounds
- Bregado Flax Educational Centre Parking Lot
- Claudia Creque Educational Centre School Grounds
- It is important to note that the formal education system under normal circumstances will cater to children from age 5. We have however recognised that many of our early childhood centres have been damaged by the hurricane and so we are making an exception to provide this service for children as early as 3 years old. We will be providing this service for children between 3 and 5 years old up to November 6, 2017, which is the start of the new academic term. We are hopeful that by this date, enough early childhood centres would have had a chance to reopen and be able to accommodate the younger children.
- Also beginning October 5, students in Grades 10 – 12 will begin sessions at the old Clarence Thomas Limited building in Pasea Estate, which we acquired earlier this year for the new public library. We are paying close attention to these students as they have already started their CXC preparations and are preparing to exit the secondary education system so we understand the urgency that is needed so that that they will be able to remain on track with the CSEC and CAPE syllabi.
- Beginning November 6, we will be implementing a shift system for our primary school students in grades K—6 and our junior school students in grades 7 – 9. This system will see students attending sessions on shifts between the hours of 8am – 12pm and 1pm – 5pm at the designated institutions that were mentioned earlier. During this time lunch will be served between 12 noon – 1pm. Students between the ages of 5 – 8 will also transition into this system.
- In order for this new system to flow properly, I am asking parents to re-register primary school students for the new academic year. I am asking that students be registered in schools in the areas in which they live or in the immediate outskirts of where they live. Registration will begin on Thursday at 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily by visiting the respective school and speaking with the principal. Registration will be done at the Leonora Delville Primary School for persons on the western end of the island and as the Enis Adams Primary School has been devastated, the registration for this institution will be done at the Althea Scatliffe Primary School.
- Uniforms that were purchased before may be worn, but uniforms are not mandatory at least in the first term. This is the case for all schools across the Territory.
- On Virgin Gorda, the Robinson O’Neal Memorial Primary School has been deemed substantially unusable. Though they are some classrooms that are still intact I would prefer not to have our students in that environment. The Bregado Flax Educational Centre – Secondary Division has suffered tremendous damage and cannot be used. The college campus on Virgin Gorda, though it received some damage, with some remedial work can relatively quickly be in use again. However, the Primary section of Bregado Flax is largely intact. We intend to use the primary section through a carefully orchestrated shift system to accommodate ROMP and BFEC Secondary Division. I have been approached by the Representatives from the business community in Virgin Gorda where a pledge was made to fix the three schools on that island. I intend to meet with these persons very quickly and I thank them for that much need offer.
- Our initial plan for Jost Van Dyke was to integrate Jost Van Dyke Primary students into the Ivan Dawson Primary School and the Secondary students to continue to attend the Elmore Stoutt High School as was the custom prior to the passage of hurricane Irma. However, the faculty of the Jost Van Dyke institution suggested that parts of the school are still usable and they would like to have discussions with the community to see if the students can use that particular part of the school. I am thankful for their initiative and I find much merit in their request since transportation from Jost Van Dyke is a challenge at this time. I would however request, while I review their initiative, that the secondary students on Jost Van Dyke be made to attend the Elmore Stoutt High School. All previous arrangements are still in place to accommodate secondary students from Jost Van Dyke.
- The Claudia Creque Educational Centre is largely intact and school in Anegada will commence on the 5 of October.
- The Virgin Islands School of Technical Studies is also intact. And so all students will report to that institution on the 5th of October.
- Further details on the logistics of the shift system will be provided as we get closer to the date.
Many of you would also recall that we were pushing very strongly to utilise more technology in our schools this year. It is our intention to rely more heavily on these resources as we continue our efforts to enhance our education system. Earlier this year we ordered digital textbooks for grades 7 and 8 students across the Territory and they will be arriving on island within the coming week. These devices do not require the use of the internet and will prove to be invaluable to our students at this time.
We will be using much more of the online Learning Hub platform. We’ve already spoken to the platform developers in Jamaica and we will be loading more content on to the platform so both students and parents can have access to supplemental learning information. The Government will be waiving all subscription costs to the Learning Hub so that all students in our education system can have access to the learning material online.
I have started discussions with one of our internet services providers and will be speaking with others to ensure that we have wifi available at school locations during and after school so that students who do not have access to the internet can still be available to access our online learning platforms.
It is our plan to assist, particularly our grades 11 and 12 students, with laptops to assist in the additional learning material that they will need for their senior school programmes. I am taking this time now to ask persons who may be listening to us to please assist us by donating laptops to assist our students.
A few months ago I tasked our technology unit to develop an effective policy for the use of technological devices including cell phones in the delivery of instructions in the classrooms. I see no better time than now for us to test this policy. We will be allowing senior school students to use their cell phones as a resource during class lessons. We recognize that there will be some challenges but our job is to address challenges not run away from them.
The Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) recently developed an online content portal for grades 10, 11 and 12 to provide instructions on all subjects being offered in senior school in preparation for CSEC and CAPE. We have subscribed to this and will be covering the subscription fee for all senior school students.
So as we can see, even though the school day will be shortened based on the exigencies of our situation, plans are in place to supplement the loss in direct instructional time. We will be relying heavily on parents and guardians to support us with these programmes.
Many of our Territory’s young people may be going through a range of emotions having just experienced the trauma caused by Hurricane Irma. Through the Return to Happiness Programme provided by UNICEF, we will be offering counseling to children, young adults, our educators and support staff with UNICEF professionals and local counselors. As a matter of fact, this has already started. The task ahead to rebuild the Virgin Islands will be an arduous one and it is of primary importance for us to ensure that we take care of the mental health of our children, our youth, our valued educators and support staff.
I would like to take this time to thank very much Prime Minister Gonsalves and the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines for their offer made to us to accept senior students from the BVI Secondary Schools to St. Vincent. This offer was made specifically for students who would be doing CSEC and CAPE examinations next year. Parents who are interested in taking up this offer can make contact with my Permanent Secretary, Dr Marcia, at 346-5360 for further details on this.
We have met with our educators to discuss our plans moving forward and to provide them with any psychological assistance that may have been needed and we are well on our way to providing our young people with educational opportunities beginning October 5 and November 6.
I will be meeting with the President of the H Lavity Stoutt Community College, Dr Janet Smith within the coming days to further discuss and formulate our plans for the H Lavity Stoutt Community College moving forward. I will provide updates on the progress of the college in short order
Call for Volunteers
We have recognized from our assessments of schools that there have been damages made to the facilities that we know were not caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria. These were clearly acts of vandalism and situations where persons shamefully enriched themselves from an unfortunate situation. Schools are designed to impart knowledge to our children and it is unforgivable that individuals within our society would do this. I want to say clearly that anyone found doing this will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
As our Territory needs all of us to do our part to rebuild it, the Ministry of Education is sending out a call to residents to assist us. We are seeking community volunteers to assist with any of the centres we will be setting up or providing support within our education system. UNICEF will be providing training for these volunteers.
We are also seeking volunteers to assist with the centres that we are setting up for children between the ages of 3-8 in various districts. Areas in need of assistance include: cleanup, rebuilding, salvaging school equipment and remaining materials and transportation.
Communication continues to be a challenge, but we are asking that you simply send a WhatsApp message with your full name and area of interest to The Chief Education Officer, Mrs Connie George at 541 7765.
Organisations that may have adopted schools are asked to lend their support to those institutions as they seek to rebuild and arrive at some level of normalcy. These organisation’s can reach out to the chairperson of the Adopt-A-School Programme, Mrs Brenda Lettsome Tye at 542-1132.
In 2011 we started on a journey to create a culture of excellence within our education system. Hurricane Irma has put us on a very different path right now, but I want the people of the Virgin Islands to know that I am committed to ensuring that we maintain that same standard of excellence, even in these days.
I wish to thank all of you for listening to me and I want to honestly tell you that rebuilding our country will not be an easy task. Life will be uncomfortable for all of us for a while. We will feel like we want to complain and many will complain but let us continue to move forward to rebuild our home. We have a clean slate right now. Let’s use it wisely and as was said in the book of Job (Job 8:7), though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase.
May God bless you and bless the Greater Virgin Islands.