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MOU to bring second-chance tertiary education opportunity

page8b123PHILIPSBURG--An initiative by I Am SXM Foundation/Education For Us All that aims to bring education opportunities to the youth, in particular those who are hard workers but are disadvantaged through circumstance, achieved a milestone on Friday with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with University of St. Martin (USM).

The MOU was signed in the presence of Education Minister Rita Bourne-Gumbs, the initiative’s first applicant Angela Brown and a number of representatives of each party.

The aim is to address a gap between students who may well be top performers and access to higher education, in particular when lack of the Dutch nationality gets in the way.

I Am SXM founder Member of Parliament (MP) Tamara Leonard described a situation of students falling through the cracks by not being eligible for Government scholarships. This even happens to local students who, through no fault of their own, are not Dutch nationals, even if they are born in St. Maarten to one or more foreign but tax-paying parents.

The initiative aims to offer 10 scholarships at USM for academic-oriented high school graduates, another five for a pre-USM course for technical oriented students and three to five international scholarships.

This is provided enough funds are raised and Leonard said the idea had been very well received so far by the business community, a vital source of sponsorship. Leonard said some US $25,000 had been pledged during the first day of fundraising within the business community.

She also said both Minister Bourne-Gumbs and USM President and Interim Dean of Academics Dr. Francio Guadeloupe had taken to the idea immediately.

USM will support the project in a wide sense of the word, including contributing to awareness and fundraising activities, and essentially offer the national rate regardless of a scholarship-receiver’s legal status. One of the tasks stipulated in the MOU is that I Am SXM Foundation/Education For Us All will provide guest lecturers.

USM sees the agreement also as taking a vital step in tailoring its educational programmes to meet the needs of the island’s inhabitants.

Dr. Guadeloupe said at the signing ceremony that part of making sure St. Maarten “remains a decent society” is ensuring “human dignity and the ability to self-realise. Education is key” to that process and students should not be made to feel like second-class citizens through no fault of their own.

Minister Bourne-Gumbs said the project, which she endorsed, fell in line with the ministry’s aims. She said the Ministry had to commit to certain guidelines, stick to criteria and deal with a tight budget, contributing to the reality of the situation. She commended the parties for doing their part towards ensuring education and providing second chances.

She also suggested that funding should be made into a revolving system, so that more students could benefit, with less dependency on fundraising. This would entail students paying back at least part of the scholarship, which would be geared towards continuing the programme

Leonard said she originally had started I Am SXM during pre-elections as a campaign, but that the causes related to all of St. Maarten and were not meant to be divided by any political lines. Part of putting distance between the two concepts was the subsequent Education For Us All.

Education For Us All President Julian Lake said new education opportunities in principle provided much needed hope for youths and the chance to expand horizons. He encouraged students to apply.

Applications should be made through the I Am SXM Facebook page for now. Applicants who meet the criteria, also described in detail on that page, will be determined through a selection committee, management and a board. The shortlist of viable applicants will be picked randomly at a public event that also will serve as a fundraiser. As for the smaller number of international scholarships, one student also will be chosen by Art Saves Lives Foundation.

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