Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
After much public outcry over the neglect meted out to the Tarrant High School, Jamaica's Ministry of Education is contending that the situation at the school was grossly overstated.
Last week, The Sunday Gleaner reported that a recent furniture audit conducted at the Tarrant High School in the Corporate Area has revealed that the school is short of close to 1,000 desks and chairs.
It was also revealed that, since the start of the new school year, teachers at Tarrant High have often been forced to stand and deliver the syllabus, while students have to find ingenious ways of securing a desk and a chair.
In addition to the dearth of desk and chairs, the school is in dire need of infrastructural repairs because, when it rains, it literally pours into several classes at the school located off Molynes Road in St Andrew.
When contacted ahead of the story published last week, the ministry said it was not aware of the school's chronic furniture need and that it would look into the matter.
After subsequent checks at the school last week, the education ministry released a statement in which it said: "Following media reports about a shortage of furniture at the Tarrant High School in St Andrew, the Ministry of Education visited the institution and concluded that the school is not short of 'close to 1,000 pieces of furniture'."
According to the ministry, a preliminary audit revealed that the school needed 35 computer chairs; repairs done to 10 computer chairs; 30 desks and chairs for teachers; 20 stools for the art room, and 180 pieces of students' desks and chairs, of which 75 were already delivered.
The ministry said it also discovered that the computers in the school-owned lab needed upgrading, but the e-learning lab was fully equipped with updated computers; that damaged and irreparable furniture needed to be removed from the school compound, and that repairs needed to be effected to the leaking roof where the computer room is located.
"During the visit, the Ministry of Education team confirmed/observed that the current enrolment stands at 985, down from the previous enrolment of 1,200 for the 2012-2013 academic year (and) there were several classes where the number of desks and chairs were more than were required to fully seat all students," the ministry added.
As a result of its preliminary findings, the ministry has committed to providing 100 additional pieces of furniture to satisfy the need in the art room and the science lab, and 20 additional stools would also be sourced for the school. The ministry also said steps would be taken to rationalise the furniture against enrolment per class at each grade level and that it would expedite the contractual arrangements to effect repairs to the roof and other infrastructural needs of the school.
When contacted for a response, Esther Tyson said the school was still reviewing its figures for Monday's deadline, apparently set by the ministry.
However, Tyson pointed out that the school has been receiving tremendous support as "persons have been calling in and want to help".
She said Food For the Poor has committed to helping with furniture and the repairing of the roof; Medical Associates has committed to donating 13 student chairs; Scotiabank, six filing cabinets; and St George's College will be donating three filing cabinets.
Meanwhile, the immediate past principal of Tarrant High School, Garfield Higgins, told The Sunday Gleaner that during his tenure as head of the school between September 2011 and August 2013, he wrote several letters to the Ministry of Education outlining the school's need for additional furniture.
However, he also challenged the claim that the school needed close to 1,000 pieces of furniture.
"I don't know what system of mathematics was used to do the audit, but clearly something is wrong," he said.
"Unless something spectacular happened between when I left on August 31, 2013, and the first couple of days of the new school year then the sums are wrong," he added.
The former principal said in September 2011 he requested in writing 100 desks and chairs and those were delivered in December of the same year.
Higgins also said that, in his letters to the ministry, he reiterated the need for infrastructural repairs needed to prevent injury to students and teachers. The former principal also said he requested furniture for teachers from the ministry.
"The level of response was totally insufficient," said Higgins.
"I think the ministry needed to have been much more responsive to the issues pointed out in writing, letter after letter," he said.
Despite the challenges, Higgins said the pass rate for mathematics moved to 31 per cent in the last sitting of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams.
According to him, the school's pass rate was in single digits back in 2008.
He said the pass rate for English A stood at 53 per cent in 2013, an increase from 16 per cent in 2008.