Amid a worrying standoff between the Ministry of Education and unionized teachers, the President of the umbrella Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Pedro Shepherd today suggested it
was time for Minister of Education Ronald Jones to call it a day.
“I am suggesting that if the minister is tired of the particular ministry, then he can simply write to the Prime Minister and ask him to relieve him of the burden of the Ministry of Education,” said Shepherd as he addressed a large gathering of teachers at the BUT’s headquarters at Merryhill, Welches, St Michael this morning.
Shepherd was particularly peeved that the minister had responded to the BUT’s latest correspondence by accusing the union of operating in bad faith. The union boss said this was
a clear sign that Jones had no intention of honouring the BUT’s request for a meeting with him to discuss pressing issues affecting teachers.
He also interpreted Jones’ response to mean that he was “tired” and therefore needed to be relieved of “the burden of the Ministry of Education”.
However, during today’s three hour-long meeting with teachers, Shepherd again gave the assurance that his union would do nothing to compromise next Tuesday’s Barbados Secondary School Entrance Examination, even as he served notice that the BUT was prepared to stage industrial action from Wednesday until the current term ends in June, unless Jones agrees to give teachers their requested hearing.
Just yesterday, the Minister of Education said that all systems were go for next Tuesday’s examination by an estimated 3,600 primary school students.
In fact, Jones had sought to assure parents that not even a strike by the BUT would get in the way of the crucial test, announcing that there would be contingencies in the event of a strike.
“I wish to assure parents that they have no need to worry about the conduct of the exam or the integrity of the exam. I hope that the threatened withdrawal of labour really is not done and I hope that all parties are on board to ensure that that comes off well,” Jones said at the time.
The Minister of Education said his ministry had been receiving calls from many Barbadians, including past teachers, representatives of non-governmental organizations and people from various walks of life expressing concern about the possible impact of a strike of the students sitting the exam.
“We stand ready to be mobilized at the instant. We want to thank them for that, but we know that our teachers would rise to true professionalism by working and ensuring that our young charges are able to operate in the examination without stress,” he added.
The latest row between the BUT and Jones stems from a recent incident at Ellerslie Secondary School during which a student is alleged to have spat on and kicked a teacher.
Both the BUT and its sister union, the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), called out their members last week in emergency meetings to discuss the Ellerslie situation, the general problem of violence in schools and other matters.
Immediately after its meeting, the BUT president had issued an ultimatum to Jones to meet with his members by Wednesday or else.
But after Jones turned down its demand, Shepherd called out the teachers this morning to discuss the minister’s response and follow-up action.
In explaining why his union was so desperate to get a face-to-face meeting with Jones and to allow teachers to share their day-to-day experiences with him, Shepherd today highlighted the UNICEF sponsored School Positive Management Behavioural Programme, which he complained rewards children for bad behaviour and was contributing to the growing problem of indiscipline in the school system.
Shepherd said there were many issues in education stemming from children who were abusive to their parents; and who came to school and were abusive to members of both the teaching and ancillary staff, as well as to other students.
“Even at the primary schools children are telling teachers all sorts of things. Six and eight-year-old children are cursing principals to their faces. They are telling teachers they cannot flog them because the Minister of Education said so. We have to be careful what we say in public because children have the technology and they are hearing and seeing everything.”
The union boss disclosed that indiscipline has reached such a stage that there was a secondary school on the west coast where members of the Royal Barbados Police Force have to be stationed everyday because of the frequency of the calls from that school to quell fights.
Asked if Barbados could ever experience a situation like the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in the 1990s, Shepherd said he hoped it would never reach that stage.
However, he warned that something very serious was going to happen in the secondary school system because children were bringing weapons to school.
The union boss warned that some students were openly selling drugs in school, as he suggested that Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite should enact legislation and get systems in place to deal with the issues of indiscipline in the island’s schools.