I begin this week’s article by “bigging up” a tomorrow’s woman in the making. Mary Fraser has awed us with her talent, stamina and dedication over the last few days of the Barbados Secondary Schools Athletics Championships (BSSAC).
I remember Mary, as a little girl then, running behind her father around and around the Garrison Savannah as part of her training. I will admit that I even thought her dad was excessive at points, but now I take the opportunity to publicly applaud him for seeing the talent in his daughter, and spending the time and money it must have taken –– and continues to take –– to nurture it.
If none of our other success stories have done it, this is the one that should make us realize there is a great amount of sporting talent on this island waiting be developed and exported. We should realize too that a system of education that syphons off only the children who can regurgitate well at aged 11 and dooms the rest to try their best elsewhere is not good enough.
Children have multiple nodes in which they can do well. The student who is good at sports may never be able to pass mathematics at Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) level. They may also not achieve English at that level. That is not the shortcoming of the athlete, it is the shortcoming of the system; because we have not yet made the system diverse enough to create success in enough of the multiple nodes in which people can achieve.
The Caribbean Examination Council removed the Basic offering from its suite back around 2001. Barbados has been content to spend the next 14 years without assessing whether our own system needed another certification stopgap.
The reality is that only students who are going on to university to pursue sciences, whether pure or applied, need CXC General mathematics. The artists and the humanities specialists among us –– the sportsmen –– are tortured for five years to try to get a pass which has no practical bearing on their relevance for the rest of a lifetime. This is a great disservice we are doing to sportspeople –– students who will need certification to fully build out their careers but not necessarily certification at the CXC General level.
On the subject of CXC, let me publicly offer my support to a steadfast woman warrior in the educational sphere, Ms Mary Redman, as she represents the interest of the members of her union. The whole of Barbados suddenly thinks it is fashionable to malign teachers at every turn.
The reality is there are bad teachers in the system. That is not the fault of the bad teachers in the system. That again is the fault of our educational system. We do not have a system that allows teachers to be trained before they go into the classroom. We do not even do psychological testing on teachers before we place them in classrooms.
We should not be surprised we have a few bad teachers. We should be happy we do not have more bad teachers.
Besides the few bad ones though, the reality is that the educational system in Barbados is still buttressed by a majority of teachers who are willing to provide care for and encouragement to the nation’s children to do well. These teachers do not get 14 weeks of vacation as it appears on the surface.
These weeks are dedicated to planning lessons. They are used to host activities for Brownies or Cub Scouts. Teachers travel with students who are doing various types of activities, whether sporting, debating or whatever. There are several roles which teachers perform that are never paid for.
There is a high level of chronic disease among the teaching fraternity because many of them are simply overworked. They stand for long periods, they talk for long periods and they do not get to eat snacks or get up and walk around to clear their heads at intervals during the day or do any other activities that would make “desk work” more bearable. This is the reality of teaching; and we need to be honest about it. We have not even talked about the disciplinary issues; the issues of shortages of materials, or the physical conditions under which teachers work.
The scant respect for teachers in Barbados is not an issue without root. Teaching has become a feminized profession and the disrespect which is meted out to women in the wider society finds itself concentrated in the context of criticism of the teaching fraternity. Whereas we expect that doctors must be paid handsomely for each and every service they offer, teachers should be more “motherly” and not expect to derive “too much money” from that which is their profession.
We as a society seldom complain when doctors charge exorbitant fees to write health reports or rewrite misplaced prescriptions, since medicine in Barbados is still a male domain.
The deliberate and venomous attacks on Ms Mary Redman havebeen quite evident. Not only is Ms Redman a teacher, she dares to be an outspoken and tactful activist. Where women who are seen but never heard might be tolerated even by misogynous men, those who have the confidence and will to speak will never be accepted.
So it seems to most that Ms Redman is a woman out of her place, and this makes the attacks against her personal and particularly acerbic. Had she been in a male body, she would be strong and no-nonsense person; but being in a female frame, she is bombastic and loud –– “always causing trouble”.
Gender relations, or, in the case of Barbados, poor gender relations are in everything. They affect everything and impact on productivity. Like race, gender is usually swept under the carpet; but then the carpet becomes bulky and we trip over ourselves.
Who do you know enjoys work without pay? Perhaps, what we should do is commodify mothering and pay mothers for their work instead of asking teachers to teach more like mothers.
When will we stop trying to fit all our problems under the carpet? When will we stop cussing personalities and drill down to the real issues?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and a part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email: [email protected])