From concerns over the state of school buildings and uncertainty of tenure among teachers, to declining enrolment at the tertiary level following the introduction of tuition fees for Barbadians at the University of the West Indies a year ago, the Ministry of Education had its hands full this year.
A major issue involved the number of temporary teachers who had not yet been appointed despite working in some cases for as long as 17 years. President of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Pedro Shepherd said up to 1,000 temporary teachers had applied for permanent jobs in the teaching service this year.
After several appeals and strike threats from the teachers’ unions, Minister of Education Ronald Jones announced in August that 416 primary educators would be appointed the following month, and 239 new posts would be created at primary and secondary schools when the Public Service (Teachers) Order was passed by Parliament later in the year.
According to, the new positions would raise the number of established nursery and primary school posts to 1,631.
The Minister stated at the time that the additional posts would address the issue of teachers within the education system whose employment was not sanctioned by the Civil Service. He added that the number of posts at the nursery, primary and secondary level had been under review since 2012 as part of moves to regularize the system.
However, when the appointments were finally announced in November, questions were raised about the criteria used for the selection. The BUT said temporary teachers were not treated fairly during the process and it wanted justice for them.
When the union met with its members earlier this month at its Welches, St Michael headquarters to discuss the issue, Shepherd said the teachers had no idea on what basis the appointments were made. According to him, the initial batch consisted of individuals who “were teaching for 14 to 17 years… the next batch, nine, 11 [years] and so they were of the view they were looking at it in terms of years”.
However, he noted that it was only halfway through the process that teachers recognized that people with five years’ service were receiving letters of appointment ahead of others who had served longer in the profession.
The union leader had planned to take the matter to the Ministry of Education before the end of the school term. He stated the union was also seeking clarity from the Education Ministry, the Ministry of Civil Service and the Personnel Administration Division (PAD) on a number of “grey areas”.
While a strike was averted in this case, Parkinson and Alma Parris took strike action in 2015
Another development which made the headlines was the closure of the Combermere School in April because of environmental concerns following reports of a gas leak. The closure prompted the Education Ministry to temporarily relocate students from first to fourth form to the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic, while fifth and sixth formers were accommodated at the Erdiston Teachers’ Training College.
By July, a team from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States gave the all-clear for the reoccupation of the Waterford institution, following a two and a half day evaluation of the school’s indoor environmental quality.
The team reported that there was no detection of gas odours at the school, and based on their findings, there was “no reason why the building can’t be reoccupied”. However, they called for education officials to address ongoing maintenance issues, some of which were long-standing.
Among those issues were mould and moisture, as well as dust from an accumulation of stored unused equipment.
Another school was reopened this year, after it too was closed due to environmental concerns. Students at the Grazettes Primary School were allowed back to their original location in St Michael in January after receiving clearance from the Health and Safety Division of the Ministry of Labour.
They were relocated in October last year to the Ebenezer Breath of Life Seventh-Day Church after several forced closures.
In November, The Alexandra School officially launched its sixth form in an effort to encourage students between the ages of16 and 18 years to stay in school.
The 121-year-old St Peter institution joined eight other schools on the island offering a sixth form education – The Christ Church Foundation School, Combermere School, Harrison College, Springer Memorial, St Leonard’s Boy’s Secondary, The Lodge School, The St Michael School and Queen’s College.
At the tertiary level, UWI Chancellor Sir George Alleyne summed it up best when he described the 2014-2015 academic year as a “good but trying” one for the Cave Hill Campus in his address to the graduating class at the Garfield Sobers Gymnasium in October.
On the positive side, it was a year in which the campus welcomed its first female principal, Professor Eudine Barriteau, who succeeded Professor Sir Hilary Beckles who held the post for the past 13 years and now serves as vice-chancellor.
This year also saw a significant decline in revenue and enrolment figures at Cave Hill, attributed mainly to Government’s introduction of tuition fees for local students.
In his annual report in January, Beckles revealed a 21 per cent decline in enrolment. According to him, enrolment stood at 6,863 – a drop of 1,771 students compared to the corresponding period in the previous year.
Falling enrolment numbers also resulted in a major loss of income for the campus. Revenue from tuition and other student fees fell by about $1 million – from $32.7 million in 2013 to 31.7 million the previous year.
By August, new principal Barriteau told the campus’ matriculation ceremony that enrolment figures stood at 4,772 compared to 8,711 for the 2013 academic year. Barriteau also blamed the falling numbers of students pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies on Government’s new tuition policy and called on the Freundel Stuart administration to re-examine its decision.
However, Minister of Education Ronald Jones defended the policy, saying Government could not continue to subsidise education while supporting other services. Jones did, however, agree to meet with university officials to seek solutions to the challenges.
Barriteau noted that a number of cost cutting measures had been implemented at the campus as revenue continued to decline, including a freeze on vacant positions, a significant reduction of part time work and a cut in the number of substitutes for staff who were on vacation, rationalizing course offerings to reduce duplication, and increasing the use of online technologies for tutorial support.
At her official induction ceremony in December, Barriteau vowed that despite the challenges facing the institution, “the UWI Cave Hill Campus will go further into the Barbadian community even as we deepen our relevance in serving the wider Caribbean”.