I am 25 years old, female, working full time, as a legal secretary, looking to expand my horizons by getting myself a higher education. I would like to draw some attention or shed some light of my experience at the Education Department. I think that if we are to really make a difference in St. Maarten or really have educated locals (as everyone has expressed or drawn attention to the need thereof) it must start with their first point of contact at the Department of Education. What I thought would have been a good idea and also morally rewarding turned out to be the most discouraging and humiliating experience I have ever encountered in my adult life. Study Financing was set in place by the Government to assist people like myself who are working adults, that want a second chance to do better for themselves, that cannot afford to pay for University tuition.
Firstly, there are some fees involved to complete the application, which is very reasonable considering that the Education Department needs to have proof of your residential status for St. Maarten, your physical eligibility and so forth. Now if you are a teenager who has just completed high-school then this is not as much of a concern for you as it is for someone like myself. The time that we now live in every penny counts, due to our low incomes and high expenditures. So when you take a portion of your monthly income to invest in what you think will be rewarding, you hold on to that hope with an expectation that you will get the opportunity that you are rightfully entitled to.
On the day of submitting my application, I came to the office of the Education Department with my documents in hand and ready for a positive encounter with one of their representatives. However to my surprise the first lady’s office that I went to (although she let me in to have a seat) sent me to another representative because she had to go for her lunch break.
Now as representative goes through my documents she starts to huff and puff. What I could gather was that she thought I was too old to apply or she was just having a bad day and I ended up being the person that got the bad end of the stick. So I asked her if she was having a bad day and she simply replied no. I remained quiet as I always like to be polite especially to our Civil Servants, I don’t think that they are always treated with kindness so I overlooked her attitude and still made an effort to be as polite and kind as I could be. As she continues to go through my application, she stumbles across my declaration of my attendance at Milton Peter’s College, she then giggles (as if my application is some sort of joke or that my hopes to further myself is funny) and asks me “is this all you have? A TKL Diploma?” I respond “Yes Mam” she then replies “Are you even admissible to the University?”. I respond “Yes I am, the University that I have applied to, does not require any prior education, it’s quite a good program actually, you just enroll yourself and if you do well, you get your degree like anyone else will”. She then proceeds to tell me “well here at study financing you need at least a HAVO Diploma”. I say to her “Ok, how would I go about getting one of those”. She says “I will refer you to a counselour”. I ask “how would I get that in reality, is there a program at the University here?, is there a night class?, is it online?, I would like to know because I really want to get a degree”. She then tells me “You can go back to MPC”. I told her “but I am 25 and work full time” She again giggles and says “Like I said, I will refer you to a counselour”. I said “Ok, no problem, where are they located, I would be interested in speaking to one of them”. She replies “you can find that on our website”. So I asked her if my application would most likely be denied. She smiled and answered “I cannot answer that”. After this exchange I realized that I was not going to get anywhere or any of the help I anticipated.
Now not only is her door wide open that multiple members of the department is walking through during our conversation, but there are also a number of high school students sitting right outside of her door waiting in line to see her. This was very embarrassing for me to be under minded and treated as an invalid in front of such young people by a person that should have at the very least been professional, helpful and polite. I mean we are speaking of a representative that should be encouraging our people to further themselves in the realm of education. And as if it couldn’t get any worse, she then went to a colleague of hers to have a laugh at my application to say “she thinks she can get into university with THIS”. They had their laugh and she came back to complete my intake. Now I would like to add that I am a legal secretary, who is quite intelligent and serious about my education and would not let an opportunity like this go to waste. She treated me as if I was some drop out with no hope or chance at furthering myself. I never saw the need to tell her that I am already in the legal field because it should not be a factor that I already have a job with some background knowledge on the study I wish to pursue, which is the study of law.
Upon the end of our encounter she then wrote on my application “Applicant has already been informed that they may not be admissible to the University”. But I already told her that I was. I asked her for her name, she said it was Lisa, I asked Lisa who? She smiled and said just Lisa!
I believe that if the cut off point for study financing is at the age of 26, then we should be more accommodating to those who are above 18, do not live with their parents, that have to work to generate income, so that we too can have a chance to be more than what we currently are. We too deserve a chance at education and if we are expected to have a minimum education level, then it should be clear to us before we invest in declaration forms, health certificates and our valuable time of which we do not get enough of to ourselves in the vast world of St. Maarten we live in.
I would like to also add that this may have happened to many young adults like myself, who were not focused in their teenage years and realized “before” it was too late that they should do something about their education and were probably so discouraged, under minded and treated with such disrespect that they just gave up and now probably will only ever amount to admire and look at others that come to the island that were given opportunities to be educated in their countries and get decent jobs with decent salaries. Yet we always say St. Maarteners are lazy, and we do not want to be educated. I strongly believe that people like Lisa are the reasons why we do not even bother to try. Because it seems that if you are not a HAVO or VWO graduate you just get casted into a pit where you are regarded as worthless and not given a second glance whether you have potential or not!
Name withheld upon Author's Request.