He’s demanding answers from prime minister Henry Puna following a letter published in CI News on Monday, in which volunteer helper Glenise Enoka strongly criticised conditions at the school.
Enoka described teachers’ working conditions as “abysmal” and said the noise generated by having a large number of children in one building was horrendous, making it difficult for both students and teachers to hear or be heard.
She claimed there had been a noticeable decline in the performance of slow readers, which she directly attributed to the working environment.
Enoka challenged Puna to spend at least half a day at Nikao Maori School and experience the difficulties the teachers faced every day.
Heather said in a media release that it had been announced in CI News in October last year that the prime minister had signed and sealed $10 million worth of funding for a new school, courtesy of the Chinese Government.
“The PM also stated that the rebuild of the school will start during the school summer holidays. However to date, nothing has happened. Once again, the PM’s wishful thinking lacks credibility in his promise.”
The chief executive of Cook Islands Investment Corporation had given him an update on the rebuild situation and had explained that it was a challenging task dealing with the Chinese, especially since January 2015 when “adjustments” had been made to policies including the three year timeframe related to the project’s pre-feasibility phase, design and construction, Heather said.
“Despite the setback, the project team at CIIC is confident that they have improved their position in negotiations with the Chinese project team.
“CIIC is expecting a Chinese delegation to arrive in Rarotonga at the end of this month. It is unknown at this stage when CIIC expects to start the rebuild phase. The construction phase is anticipated to take no more than 12 months.”
Heather said he had recently made a morning visit to the school to assess the situation at Apii Nikao. “The whole school of around 220 students is housed in an open plan set up on the ground and upper floors of the Avatea Hall.
“Evidently this open plan concept is currently used in some schools in New Zealand and will be the model for the new buildings that will be constructed for Apii Nikao.”
Heather said it was “remarkable” how teaching staff and students at the school were coping with the extremely close proximity of classrooms and pupils, as well as the “unbearable” heat and high humidity levels in Nikao Hall.
“The working noise created by the 220 students can be distracting at times all the while causing stress on both teachers and students daily.
“Efforts by teaching staff to minimise the heat stress to occupants of the hall’s upper mezzanine classrooms have had little effect.
“I am concerned with the unbearable conditions imposed by government on our teachers and most importantly the young future leaders of the nation.”
As a result of the “unsuitable” teaching environment and uncertainty surrounding construction of the new school buildings, Heather predicted more students would transfer to other schools by next year.
“This is not a good prospect for Apii Nikao in both short and long term scenarios.”
He also challenged the prime minister to visit the school.
“He can see for himself the teaching and learning environment that teachers and students are facing due to the shortcoming of the decision by his government to bulldoze the existing classrooms at Apii Nikao.”
Puna’s spokesman, Trevor Pitt, said he could only reiterate the priority the prime minister and the government’s had placed on the Apii Nikao development project.
“He has intervened at every opportunity to pursue this priority, especially for the welfare of the kids and of course peace of mind for the parents.
“The PM has helped steer the formal processes with the Chinese Government at high levels and there is a team due to visit Rarotonga soon.
“It has already been expressed that we are enduring pressing conditions (at Apii Nikao), but every measure is being undertaken by the Education Ministry to maintain the best levels we can in terms of standards and the welfare of students.” - CS/ Release