We commend Minister of Education Ronald Jones and his team of administrators at the Elsie Payne Complex for their initiative in bringing education stakeholders together today for a major “pow wow”.
It was the right and the smart thing to do, given the tensions that now exist in education generally, and in a number of our schools in particular. And coming after a period that certainly can’t be described as education’s finest moment, this move at least gives all the parties involved in the education of the nation’s children an opportunity to get the academic year started on the right foot.
No one should expect the meeting of the minds and spirits to be the panacea that from Monday morning will create perfect institutions, but at least it should have given all the parties involved the chance to hear and understand what impacts each other — and then to act like adults in arriving at solutions, or at least displaying tolerance.
And if there is anything which all education administrators and teachers in Barbados should have taken from the “evidence” that came out of the Alexandra School Enquiry, it is that the maturity that should be naturally associated with adults was often lacking.
The fact that today’s conference at the Wildey Gymnasium was an opportunity for the two unions representing teachers, the Barbados Union of Teacher and the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union, to address their members as well as their managers should also not be taken lightly. Often, if we are honest with ourselves, when we complete the post mortem on our disputes, we would admit that many of them would not have occurred if we had taken the time to hear what others had to say.
Unions are not perfect because union leaders are not perfect; and union leaders are not perfect because human beings are far from perfect. Therefore, if protagonists would often begin representing their causes with even a hint of a possibility that they may not be all-knowing, the probability of making progress would grow significantly. And this applies to principals as much as it does to trade unionists.
And while we are on the subject of imperfection, we would admonish our principals to show a little humility to parents of their students. They may not pitch marbles together, but all across Barbados, at both primary and secondary schools, it is common to hear parents reporting that principals treat them like children — I am up there and you are down there.
Each parent is as important a stakeholder in the moulding of our children as the teachers, principals and education officers, and ought to be treated as such — and not just the ones with big rides and big jobs who are in positions to make big gifts to the school when asked, or when it is strategically important to do so.
Having said all that though, we do not fail to recognise that today’s school environment can be extremely stressful on our teachers and administrators. Their daily tasks involve much more than teaching the three Rs and with so many parents falling short of their responsibilities, the overburdened teachers have so much more to do.
Now add to that a financial crisis facing the country which has left so many schools, and by extension teachers, short of the supplies they need for optimum teaching results.
That’s why talking things through today would have been so important. Now, hopefully, Alexandra School will settle, Alma Parris Secondary will not turn into another Alexandra, and reported tensions as schools such as Coleridge and Parry and Harrison College will be approached with sincerity and maturity to achieve resolution.
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