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Editorial: Water lessons at school

Published:Friday | August 21, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The end of the long, hot summer signals the start of the academic school year when education takes centre stage once again as tens of thousands of children make the trek back to the classroom.

This year will be different for many schools, as administrators will have to confront the harsh drought conditions that have left pipes dry. Already, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites has issued a challenge to them urging conservation.

The minister told the recently concluded teachers' conference that September should become a time for teaching conservation as one way of trying to cope with the harsh realities of climate change. We agree with that position because a child educated about the benefits of conservation will become a conduit for taking this message far beyond the walls of the school and into his or her home and, ultimately, the community.

Sanitation and good hygiene are also important life lessons that ought to be taught in schools, and for this reason it is critical that there be adequate amounts of water in these institutions. Indeed, the link between sanitation, and health and economic development can be aptly demonstrated by a well-designed education programme. For instance, hand-washing with soap, as the experts tell us, can significantly reduce respiratory infections and illnesses caused by diarrhoea.

Mr Thwaites announced that arrangements have been made with the National Water Commission (NWC) to truck water to schools that have storage facilities and that measures are being put in place for those without storage to get tanks. We trust that these arrangements will work efficiently, because even in a tight fiscal regime, the investment in sanitation will have a positive effect on the overall national health goals.


Accountability of principals


Another area the minister has been speaking about for some time, and which he repeated this week, is the need to pay keen attention to the administration of schools. For example, he spoke about the appointment of principals and the need to hold them accountable for the performance of their schools. He suggested that tenure should not be automatic.

We think schools, like any other institution, thrive best when there is imaginative and dedicated leadership. The schools that perform well are usually those with a strong head, supported by dedicated staff, a motivated parent-teacher association, and a creative board.

In 2012, Mr Thwaites announced a major overhaul in the way school board appointments will be made. Back then, he said, "Members of a school board ought to be able to give the time to involve themselves with the teaching and learning exercise, and so we need to think very carefully about the category of persons who are nominated."

To what extent we have eschewed the practice of loading up school boards with political supporters cannot be determined here. However, we believe that there is still room to tap into the vast reservoir of talented persons who would willingly give of their time to schools, and such persons should be sought out and asked to serve.

In the end, it is the performance of the school that really counts. We urge the minister to continue to take bold initiatives and accelerate accountability measures to ensure a healthy learning environment for our children.