Key stakeholders will convene today to finalize a National School Safety Policy that will guide the country’s educational institutions in preparing for and responding to all hazards.
Minister of Education, National Reconciliation and Information; Hon. St. Clair Prince, has emphasized that the Ministry of Education is being proactive in building the resilience of the education sector to disasters. Minister Prince said:
“Prior to the start of the new school year, we want to ensure that we have the mechanisms in place to govern and promote best practices around the three pillars of school safety: (1) safe learning facilities (2) school disaster management and disaster risk reduction and (3) resilience education
The National School Safety Policy will help schools to:
- Improve safety by outlining safe construction, maintenance, location and school relocation measures
- Strengthen systems for disaster management by establishing safety committees in each institution
- Develop and test disaster plans that guide schools’ preparation, response and evacuation mechanisms
- Source training for administrators, staff and students that would contribute to greater awareness and practice of DRR and school safety
The consultation, scheduled for 9 this morning at the Frenches House, will pool together stakeholders from the various government ministries, the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), the National Red Cross, Principals Associations, Parent Teachers Associations and the Police Service. The activity is being funded by the Africa, Caribbean, Pacific – European Union Natural Disaster Reduction Programme, which is managed by the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction.
The Ministry of Education is working along with regional and international partners such as the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, UNICEF and the World Bank to implement school safety initiatives based on the World Wide Initiative for School Safety and the Caribbean Safe Schools Initiative.
Hazards such as hurricanes, volcanoes, floods and landslides can disrupt the education system and can cause serious setbacks in the learning process. They can damage school infrastructure and resources, requiring costly and extensive repairs. Hazards have also forced students to miss school due to loss of uniforms and school supplies; and have had traumatic effects on students and staff who experience the loss of loved ones, homes or livelihoods. For schools that also serve as emergency shelters, the impact can be greater as repairs are often needed after the shelter is vacated to ensure facilities are adequate for the continuation of education.
The Ministry of Education oversees 125 early childhood centres, 68 primary schools, three special needs schools, 27 secondary schools, four technical centres and four divisions of the community college. This embodies almost 30,000 students and over 2,000 teachers; which represents more than a quarter of the population of St. Vincent and the Grenadines who can very well be at educational institutions during the impact of a hazard.