School dropouts, unemployment a challenge on Fort Island


As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, school dropouts have been amplified on Fort Island, a small island along the Essequibo River.

Chairman of Fort Island Carla Mittleholzer (Photo: News Room)

But even before the pandemic, children, especially boys, would drop out of school and seek employment to support their families, Chairman of the island Carla Mittleholzer told the News Room during a recent visit.

“Most of the boys, I don’t know why they don’t like to go to school or I think it is parental guidance and you know some of them has to help maintain the home,” Mittleholzer explained.

Fort Island only caters for the primary level of education; it has 16 pupils, inclusive of primary and nursery children.

The three teachers there, which also include head teacher Bernice Craig, have developed a multi-grade system where one teacher is responsible for more than one class.

Once pupils on the island complete primary school, the closest secondary school is at Parika on the East Bank of Essequibo. Craig told the News Room that students would travel daily from the island and she said it would be better if they had a school boat to transport them.

Meanwhile, Mittleholzer explained that most parents are more interested in having their children working and it is not long before they drop out of school.

But Mittleholzer said employment is another challenge on the island, especially for women.

“What I think we need on the island is if we can get an organisation to help empower women, like to learn various skills and even the dropouts,” she said.

She explained that many women would be grateful for an income.

The Fort Island stelling under construction (Photo: News Room)

Meanwhile, the island’s stelling is being rehabilitated to the tune of $18 million and Mittleholzer revealed that the women are anxiously awaiting its completion so that they can get a job to maintain the washroom facilities.

“Even if they want to do something, there is nothing for them to do and if they learn a skill, well then, perhaps they can make something to sell like a craft or something to eat, you know that can bring a dollar to them,” Mittleholzer said.

Mittleholzer was born on Fort Island and said she would love to see many more developments there.

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