To Swim or not to Swim

A lot has been written lately about the minister’s intention to drop the 3rd grade swim program from school curriculum. So I called around for info.

It is an interesting topic. Should an island surrounded by water teach its people to swim or can they just pick it up on their own?

Obviously, there was a need for swim lessons, when first introduced in 1993.

Swim lessons are given here in the 3rd grade as part of the teaching curriculum, instead of PE. In the fourth grade PE is restored to the syllabus. Oranjestad school kids are bused to Palm Beach, where they change into bathing suits and enter the ocean in small groups, between 3 to 8 students, to master the diploma A requirement of swimming 250m at the end of the year. The course concludes with more than 70% success rate.

For further skills and diplomas, up to six levels, private swim lessons are given at Aqua Windie’s, for example.

The San Nicholas kids were bused to Baby Beach, but since the department in charge declared the changing trailer inadequate, kids are now transported to the community pool. More than a dozen teachers work simultaneously, on the same beach or pool, each entrusted with his own group of students, then following the class the kids are expected to shower, get dressed, remember to pick up all their stuff and bring it on board the bus, going back to school to resume the regular school day. The turnaround takes two hours, and the swim teachers welcome 4 groups each day, for 45 minute classes.

De facto they work 4 hours, 5 days a week, but between meetings and prep, they almost reach the minimum 25 hours a week, required for a full time salary.

(As a mother, I am not sure I want them to work longer, they are responsible for getting the same number of nine-year-olds in and out of the ocean, and should not be overworked nor overstressed)

As mentioned before, this has been ongoing since 1993. The teachers were given a temporary, one-year contract at the beginning of each year, and that governed their relationship with their employer, GOA. Then in 2009 GOA stopped offering contracts and just expected them to show up for work, fueled by goodwill and trust, that their pay will appear on their bank account each month, no pension, no perks, no job security.

For 28 years.

And some of the teachers have been there from the start.

What’s wrong with that picture?

No Minister of Education ever had the backbone to regulated OR nix swim lessons, though if you ask around, every parent wants his/her kids to be able to survive in water.

In August 2020 the teachers were told the swim program will be replaced by another, involving kindergarten kids. The teachers will be rehired as part-timers and on a pay scale on par with school janitors and cleaners.

With all due respect, said the teachers, four and five year olds are unable to put on swim suits, on their own, then shower and change and take two bus trips, plus learn to swim 250 meters, too much pressure, too little focus.

He said. They said. Stale mate. We don’t know where we stand.

On March 8th, the SN swim program will be heading to the Savaneta Olympic pool, while Oranjestad will remain on Palm Beach, till July 31st. Then what?

22 swim teachers would like to know.

Should an island surrounded by water teach its people to swim or can they just pick it up on their own? Is there still a need to include swimming in our school curriculum?!

I say, yes of course, it’s just a form of PE, only more fun, and more useful. And those who teach it deserve the respect and the protection reserved to math, and language teachers.



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February 18, 2021
Rona Coster