Do not panic.
These words of comfort have come from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who made it clear that his Government would not allow “minor frictions” to undermine the gains made in education by his administration over the years.
Addressing a meeting of the St Peter branch of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) at the All Saints Skills Training Centre last night, Stuart told party supporters the trade union had the right to represent their constituents, adding that while the union was doing its work, so to was the Ministry of Education.
Over the past few weeks President of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Pedro Shepherd has been calling on Minister of Education Ronald Jones to meet with its membership to thrash out a range of issues affecting teachers, but Jones has so far declined the request.
Shepherd said last week he would write to Stuart asking him intervene in the ongoing row.
However, downplaying the current situation involving the union and the Ministry of Education, Stuart said while there was “some perception that there is some standoff between the trade union movement and the Government of the Democratic Labour Party”, there was no such impasse.
The Prime Minister said the trade unions had a right to represent their members; therefore, he was not worried over the current developments.
“I do not have any anxieties about anything that I am seeing or hearing now because I know that trade unions have constituencies to represent and that they are allowed by law to represent and within the context of legal, social and political decency to the best of their ability,” he insisted.
Stuart said over the past few weeks he had been hearing from people “from all over the place” who had been asking him what was going on between the BUT and the Ministry of Education.
He said his response has been that both the union and the ministry were doing their job and he had no doubt that the Ministry of Education knew how to do its work.
Stuart said his DLP had an “unparalleled record” on education and it would not waver in its commitment.
“The commitment of the Government of Barbados at present being led by the DLP, the commitment to education and to the highest quality standards of education is not in question, is not an issue for us. We have staked too much on the provision and the development and expansion of education in Barbados to allow any minor frictions at this time to undermine what is an unparalleled record for any Government in Barbados,” he said.
Stuart said most of the indiscipline experienced in schools today was also present when he was a pupil and when he taught for about ten years. He posited that the key difference is that some issues were getting more publicity now than they did years ago.
“So I don’t want us to get too panicky and believe that somehow things are changing for worse,” he said.
However, acknowledging that there were “a few issues to confront in education at the level of the management of our relationships”, the Prime Minister called for balance in how the matter was being approached by both sides.
Last week, Shepherd declared war on the Ministry of Education if its demands were not met.
However, Stuart last night cautioned against resorting to extreme terms.
“The taking of extreme positions is not going to get us very far in our challenges. The door to dialogue must be kept opened, respect on both sides of any divide must be maintained . . . and everything must not be elevated to the status of a war.
“If there are a thousand problems in education, let’s be frank about it. The Ministry of Education has to deal with one first, then the second, then the third. It cannot deal with all one time,” Stuart stressed.
He also warned Barbadians not to get to the stage “where we begin to abuse, vilify and curse” the children.
When contacted today, Shepherd said he had no response to make to the Prime Minister’s statements, except to say that the union was sticking to its two-week deadline for him to respond to their concerns.