We were incensed by today’s report of a stabbing at one of this island’s secondary schools –– and hope you were too. Regrettably, violence at school is becoming far too commonplace; and, coming on the heels of the recent altercation between a student and a teacher, as well as other reports of incivility, outrage is justified.
Schools are sacred spaces and, now more than ever, there must be one strong, unified message from all fronts –– the Ministry of Education, the Barbados Unions of Teachers, the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, parents and all other right-thinking members of society –– that our places of learning must not be desecrated by lawlessness and violence.
Challenges abound in our treasured education system, and those at the forefront have a tough assignment on their hands. At present, battle lines appear to have drawn in this critical sector.
Last Friday, an ultimatum emerged from the Barbados Union of Teachers for Minister of Education Ronald Jones to meet with restive educators by Wednesday. President Pedro Shepherd sounded the warning that teachers were prepared to boycott classes possibly on Friday since the union’s repeated cries for a meeting with Mr Jones had reportedly fallen on deaf ears.
Said Mr Shepherd: “We are going to ask the minister to convene a meeting of all the teachers and any other stakeholders in education . . . where teachers can hear from the Minister of Education what his concerns are, teachers can say to the minister what their concerns are, we can look for solutions to take education forward and try to deal with all the issues in education.”
To date, to the best of our knowledge, Minister Jones has not responded, though he has promised to tell all at a news conference this week. We hold him to that commitment.
But more than that, we aver the two sides must sit down and talk –– minus the ultimatums –– to find the right formula to correct the challenges facing our school system.
What we don’t need is the never-ending blame game that would ensue and the finger-pointing in all directions: at parents who fail to discipline their children; at schools that can’t take necessary steps to rein in the deviant; at violent and sexually explicit games, movies and music; at the news media; and so on.
Protest action just ahead of the annual Common Entrance Exam, Caribbean Examination Council exams is not only ill-timed, but will do little to address the grievances teachers themselves suffer in the system.
Equally, the place of teachers tasked with the important work of educating our children is warranted at the front of the classroom –– and students especially in these circumstances must give an attentive ear to those who have walked in their shoes before.
Cuts that are allowed to fester may grow into cancerous sores.
Most importantly, the opportunity must not be missed to transmit the potent message that attacks on students or teachers are to be abhorred and dealt with swiftly and severely.
Our charges are watching; learning does not only occur in the classroom. Therefore, both sides must reflect on whether their actions are transmitting the correct lessons on conflict resolution, especially in a society where incivility and disrespect are increasingly not just tolerated, but celebrated.
Teachers and education authorities should be on one page –– providing a nurturing environment where our children go beyond the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic to developing the values of respect, hardwork and maturity.
What is needed is to ensure the school environment remains safe and wholesome; teachers in our classrooms are the best they can be; and that authorities develop effective, forward-looking strategies to ensure schools produce well-rounded citizens. Let’s hope that persistent carping does not keep teachers and the authorities from completing this important assignment.