Coltart’s pronouncements on education good but . . .

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Pronouncements by David Coltart, Minister of Education, Arts, Sport and Culture that the Government is putting in place measures to ensure gifted but disadvantaged children are given the chance to complete their education is welcome news.

Coltart told members of the House of Assembly this week that every province was expected to have at least one boys’ and one girls’ high school to cater for disadvantaged children.

“We will focus resources on those government schools, restore and rehabilitate them and identify the best possible headmasters and teachers and then develop a scholarship programme working with primary schools headmasters and headmistresses, as well as the local community leaders who will identify the talented, disadvantaged children in their communities,” Coltart said.

This move by the Government is laudable given that the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) has had little impact in assisting gifted children that are unable to pay school fees.

As a result, a lot of potential academic talent has gone to waste especially in rural areas and high density suburbs.

Gifted children come from all backgrounds and it is important to note that the Government has recognised the need to cater for such children from disadvantaged communities.

Children from poor backgrounds are normally helped “through education” in a manner that can best be described as token, with the benefactors’ main target being to keep them in school with little regard of the quality of education they receive.

It is therefore heartening to note that under the proposed programme, quality is also an important factor as the children are to be “nurtured and developed to get the best education”.

While the mooted programme is cause for celebration, experience counsels caution.

We have seen how corruption, nepotism and political partisanship have got the better of such programmes so that the intended beneficiaries ended up the losers.

There have been concerns over how the Presidential Scholarship and the BEAM programmes have been abused.

Accusations of corruption, nepotism, patronage and partisanship, from the lowest level to the highest level, have dogged the programmes.

In such cases the intended beneficiaries lost out.

In order for this new programme to have the intended impact, foolproof structures and mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that unwelcome internal and external variables such as corruption do not eat into the intended beneficiaries’ pie, otherwise this noble idea will end up as one of the multitudes of government programmes whose intended benefits have been eroded through vice.

A number of significant programmes in this country have succumbed to political interference.

Our politicians have this knack for politicising everything, including schools and the entire education system and the moment they dip their noses into noble programmes they go to waste.

We hope that for once, politicians stay out of this programme so that those from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit.