Why I disagree with the decision to turn the Five Islands Secondary School into a university

On August 30th 2016, youth worker Daryl George posted a facebook note that I thought was worth sharing here; primarily because it deals with Education and by extension the youth, and that’s who Wadadli Pen’s work is about – young people (35 and younger). As you are aware, or will be after reading this, the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize is about nurturing and showcasing the arts (especially the literary arts) among young people in Antigua and Barbuda. Education is a part of that; and George is a part of Wadadli Pen as the 2016 winner of the annual Wadadli Pen Challenge.

pair glen photo 22

Winner Daryl George with Douglas Allen, brother of Alstyne Allen in whose memory the plaque is named at the 2016 Wadadli Pen Challenge Awards Ceremony. While 2016 was George’s first win, he was by then a Wadadli Pen finalist several times over.

Here’s what he had to say about plans to re-purpose a new secondary school in Five Islands, Antigua into a university. Short answer: he disagrees. Here’s why.

Simply put, I’m not in favor of turning the Five Islands Secondary School (FISS) into a University. I’m going to attempt to explain why I disagree with the decision, while trying to be as fair and as balanced as possible, using as much hard data as possible, and Feel free to agree or disagree – BUT please back up your opinion with relevant data and information Background of the FISS – The decision that led to the creation of the FSS was due to the noted overcrowding of a number of schools in the St. John’s vicinity – notably the Princess Margaret School and the Ottos Comprehensive school, both of which were over the threshold of the maximum recommended number of students (http://planipolis.iiep.unesco.org/upload/Antigua%20and%20Barbuda/Antigua-Draft-Ed-Sector-Plan_2013-2018.pdf). A study was done by UWI/Profiles Inc, commissioned by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, to develop a draft Education Sector Plan from 2013-2018, which will be simply titled “the study” (http://planipolis.iiep.unesco.org/upload/Antigua%20and%20Barbuda/Antigua-Draft-Ed-Sector-Plan_2013-2018.pdf) . The study noted that PMS, OCS, and other “town” schools such as the Clare Hall Secondary School, Antigua Grammar School, and Antigua Girls High school had little space to accommodate additional structures. The study also noted that major secondary schools are currently accommodating 2.5 times (250% capacity) the students they were originally built to hold. As a result, it was deemed necessary to build new schools to accommodate the overcrowding issue. Using national census and other population data, it was found that there were two areas which would benefit the most from new school plant: the Grays Farm/Greenbay/Hatton area and the Clare Hall, Cassada Gardens and Potters Community. The decision was made to place the Grays Farm/Greenbay/Hatton School in the Five Islands community. It was funded by the Chinese government to include a gymnasium, IT and science labs and Olympic sized swimming pool. The decision to place the school in Five Islands was made allegedly due to lack of space within the communities it was intended to serve, with Five Islands being the closest point where sufficient land space was available (http://antiguaobserver.com/baldwin-spencer-displeased-with-decision-to-re-purpose-five-islands-school/). A statement was also made that another secondary school to serve the Clare Hall/Potters/Piggots community would be built in the near future at Tomlinsons (http://antiguaobserver.com/new-five-islands-school-soon-to-come/).

1. The decision to transition is not based on any relevant, country specific information or data – From the outset, the reasons given for turning FISS into a University seemed to lack any sort of relevant, country specific information, data, or study. It was noted, according to one technical official, that even after meeting with Cabinet, there has been no study commissioned that would provide any hard data or evidence that a university is more necessary, important, or urgent for the development of Antigua and Barbuda than a secondary school (http://antiguaobserver.com/npta-places-its-objection-to-repurposing-five-islznds-secondary-school-on-record/) . While there have been various justifications for the change coming from the Minister of Education and the Prime Minister, none of these have been backed up with any sort of data. It is especially concerning that no country-specific information or data has been produced to justify the decision with the ability of data driven decisions to optimize resources, reduce costs, increase accuracy and accountability, and in general create effective and efficient policy decisions (http://www.journalcra.com/article/role-data-strategic-decision-making-process).

2. Technical officials not in support of the change – A number of well known, respected, and learned technical experts and authorities have clearly articulated reasons for not transitioning the school into a university. These include Alistair Thomas and the National Parents-Teachers Association (NPTA) (http://antiguaobserver.com/npta-places-its-objection-to-repurposing-five-islznds-secondary-school-on-record/), Ashworth Azille and the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (ABUT) (http://antiguaobserver.com/abut-supports-idea-of-five-islands-facility-remaining-a-secondary-school/), educator and former principal of the Antigua State College Pecheeta Spencer (http://antiguaobserver.com/education-stalwart-favours-five-islands-school/) and others. What is concerning is that there is a notable lack of other non-governmental affiliated officials who are in support of the project. Public and technical buy in is extremely important in making effective policy decisions.

3. The move will cost tens of millions of dollars – The move to transition the FISS to a university will cost the population of Antigua and Barbuda tens of millions of dollars. As the facility was built for a secondary school and not a university, millions of dollars will have to be spent to upgrade the facility. PM Browne estimated that at least US $18 million (EC $50 million) (http://www.mnialive.com/articles/five-islands-school-in-antigua-to-be-expanded-to-become-university-of-antigua-barbuda) will be necessary to upgrade the facility into a university. Whether this is in the form of a loan, grant, or mixed funding has not yet been revealed. In addition, an additional EC$ 10 million has had to be budgeted to allow schools to accommodate additional students (http://radiozdk.com/main/2016/04/government-works-to-tackle-overcrowding-in-secondary-schools/) . It could be argued that at least some of these funds could have been saved if the FISS had been opened to accommodate some of these students.

4. Economic and social benefits mentioned are not the whole picture – Much of the argument around turning the FISS into a University has been centered around economic and social benefits to local Antiguans and Barbudans. These economic benefits include shops, restaurants, accommodation, and other businesses to provide goods and services to those working and studying at the university (http://www.caribbeantimes.ag/minister-browne-university-antigua-must/) in particular within the Five Islands community. It is undisputable that a university will provide significant employment and economic opportunity, especially for Five Islands and other surrounding communities. However, Universities often incur a negative cost on the society, particular with regards to UWI with which the University will be affiliated with. For example, the Barbados government is at least US$100 million (Bbs $200 million) in debt to their UWI branch (http://www.barbadostoday.bb/2016/07/13/uwi-crippled/) and other UWI territories such as Trinidad have had to make significant cash injections just to keep the university afloat (http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,205968.html). While it should be noted that there are other benefits to social capital that universities can provide that are not easily quantified, there must be a cost-benefit analysis done to ensure that government will be able to support any University that may be established in Antigua.

In short, the decision to establish a university in Antigua and Barbuda is commendable. However, instead of making rash policy decisions that are not supported by data and may cost the taxpayers of Antigua and Barbuda hundreds of millions of dollars, it is imperative for the policy makers to listen to the advice of technical officials and make sound decisions that are best for the long term future of Antigua and Barbuda.

Please note – if you would like to copy or quote me, please feel free to do so as long as I receive proper attribution.

Thanks, Daryl, for giving us permission to share; and for being a part of the conversation.

As a reminder, this site is not about politics but about young people and the arts (including nurturing, education); comments that veer from that will not be approved.


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