By Elesha George
Classes have been delayed for 114 high school students who attend the Sir McChesney George Secondary School on Barbuda.
School principal John Mussington said as a result of ongoing construction work and the low bandwidth and internet speed supplied to the sister isle, students are unable to start this new school term which was scheduled to begin on September 7 for all public schools.
The construction work is preventing physical access to the school compound while low bandwidth makes it challenging for students to engage in online learning.
The school is likely to remain closed until September 14, or until construction on the main school site is complete. Building of new lab spaces, retrofitting of classrooms and other changes to the main area of the institution began in mid-August as a result of Covid-19 regulations and protocols.
“Tentatively we have set the 14th as our opening date but even that is dependent on the assessment that we will make towards the end of this week with regards to how far construction activity has progressed,” Mussington explained.
He told Observer that school cannot begin until the work comes to an end. While the construction continues, there are two less spaces for use at the school. There is also more that needs to be done for the school to pass Covid-19 checks.
Additional construction work which began in September 2019 is also currently taking place at the school grounds. The delayed expansion is to facilitate the requirements of universal education which was implemented in Antigua and Barbuda seven years ago.
In 2013, when universal secondary education was implemented, Mussington said many schools had to be upgraded to accommodate additional students including those who would be attending the Sir McChesney George Secondary School – the only secondary school on Barbuda.
A $30 million loan had already been earmarked for the project but did not materialise, he explained. After Hurricane Irma, a loan agreement was struck with the Caribbean Development Bank.
“Out of that recovery loan the upgrade which the school needed would have been financed,” Mussington explained.
The upgrade finally began in September 2019 and was intended to be completed by August of this year but due to Covid and “some situations” the principal said there was a delay.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma hindered the island’s access to stable internet service.
Mussington said since 2017 there has been no landlines on Barbuda resulting in limited internet connectivity from service providers. In December 2019, internet connection was restored at the school, but without fibre optic cables the quality of service is inadequate.
Telecommunications companies Digicel and Flow provide limited service to the island while state-owned firm Inet provides no bandwidth to Barbuda and there is no timeline as to when internet will be provided for schools, he said.
“Based on what the service providers are giving us, it is just not sufficient and we have suffered because when we had to go online, right at the start of the Covid pandemic, we were severely challenged,” Mussington remarked.
Students are also without electrical devices which were all destroyed when the category five hurricane left the island in ruins three years ago. The secondary school principal said no devices were reissued to the students, who had spent a year attending school in Antigua after they were evacuated in 2017.
Director of Education Clare Browne however told Observer that students in Barbuda will receive brand new devices when the government procures upgraded tablets for secondary school students nationwide.