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2022 Budget fails to address online learning challenges

Dickon Mitchell - the 2022 budget does nothing to bring more of our students in a position to access online learning

While the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Keith Mitchell boasts of intentions to invest millions of dollars towards the continued upgrade of the school infrastructure throughout the island in 2022, the leadership of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) is of the view that the initiatives outlined in this regard do not reflect those of a government that has learned the lessons of COVID-19.

Finance Minister Gregory Bowen in presenting the budget to Parliament last month said the government “will invest $133.5 million in the sector, an increase of approximately $10 million over 2021,” with projects under the Grenada Education Enhancement Project (GEEP), among the key areas of focus for 2022.

The 2-phase project comprises “major construction works,” that are ongoing with funding from the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).

Phase one (1) of the project involves work on several schools, including Bishop’s College in Carriacou, Presentation Brothers College (PBC), the Grenada SDA Comprehensive School, St. Joseph Convent, St. George’s, and Grenville, which are expected to be “completed in the first quarter of next year at a cost of EC$43.5 million.”

Phase 2 of the project is valued at “EC$41.8 million,” and “will see construction/rehabilitation works on several other schools, including the St. Andrew’s Anglican Primary, Grenada Christian Academy, St. David’s Catholic Secondary School, and the J.W. Fletcher Memorial Secondary.”

According to the 2022 budget statement, “EC$6.2 million is allocated for this project in 2022,” and work is expected to start before March.

In his contribution to the debate on the 2022 budget in the Upper House of Parliament on Monday, Leader of Government’s Business, Senator Simon Stiell highlighted the various school rehabilitation projects, stating that while “we (the government) have a long way to go in modernising our schools, what has been achieved…11 new schools and 41 being refurbished, with the little resources that (we) have is a significant achievement.”

But in his response to the billion-dollar budget, the NDC Political leader, told reporters that while “we certainly welcome the renovation, repairs, and construction work to the physical facilities of our schools, one has to beg the question, are we forward-looking enough?

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“For the most part, our students have not been able to physically attend schools over the 18 months, and yet we are spending close to $50 million on physical buildings that are not housing our students,” contended the freshman politician, who recalled that “significant numbers of our students were required but unable to access online education” during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The 44-year old attorney-at-law suggested that the Mitchell government should have moved to address this issue in the 2022 budget.

During a press conference in October, Education Minister Emmalin Pierre expressed concern regarding the limited impact of remote learning as some students do not have access to the Internet and had “not been engaged (in school work) since the start of the school year” while some “have never been engaged during a lockdown, a shutdown or online learning period since the start of COVID-19.”

The Education Minister had at that time announced a phased approach to the reopening of schools in November, starting with students in exit grades.

While students are home for the Christmas holiday, the government has given the greenlight for schools to reopen with “full accommodation of students” on January 3.

The NDC leader has contended that “a forward-looking” government and budget would have recognised that “internet access throughout the length and breath of Grenada to ensure that our students have access to online education would have been the priority of a government that has learned the lessons of COVID-19.”

“As it stands, the budget does nothing to bridge the gap or to bring more of our students in a position where they can access online learning,” said Dickon Mitchell who quickly added that this is something an NDC administration would have prioritised in its budgetary plans at this juncture.

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