If you read my last article for 2016, you would not be surprised by Central Bank Governor Dr Delisle Worrell’s economic letter published on New Year’s Day. I promise to deal with this in more detail next week because I had already committed to dealing with something near and dear to my heart in this first article for 2017. So, please forgive me.
You may recall that I went to Combermere School and I indicated that I have been afflicted with the mantra of my principal, Keith Roach, that a breach of common sense is a breach of the school rules. Perhaps you might surmise that I am obsessed with the pursuit of common sense in everything I do.
The recent closure of Combermere School in November 2016 is nothing short of a national disgrace. I arrive at this conclusion based on the fact that there was no plan for how the delivery of education was going to continue and today I get the impression that no credible plan exists.
The irony is that having closed the school in 2015 and moved to SJPP, no one in Barbados could possibly imagine that there would be NO plan in place should the need arise to once again close the school. It simply defies any kind of common sense or wisdom no matter which angle or through which prism/filter one chooses to look. No plan is ever perfect but not to have one demonstrates a level of incompetence that is simply spellbinding.
So, I started thinking not just about Combermere School, but certainly any school in the country if such a scenario arose, what ought to be the response of the Ministry of Education in conjunction with the various stakeholders: students, teachers and principals, unions, PTAs etc. In keeping with my common sense theme, I wish to offer some suggestions which I will formally submit to the aforementioned in due course for their consideration.
The first point relates to Combermere in this particular instance whilst the others are of national interest. Note these are by no means exhaustive but should provide food for thought among the stakeholders.
1. Making up for lost time. With respect to the reopening of Combermere School in January 2017, very serious consideration should be given either to extended school hours and/or Saturday classes. Clearly, this would require consultation with the respective unions but I feel a successful resolution would go a long way to alleviate the concerns of parents, guardians and alumni. This situation ought to be treated as an emergency and therefore not be subject to the usual back and forth between parties. However, leadership is required. I am very mindful that it is sports term and therefore a decision has to be made in the interest of the overall development of the students. However, I fundamentally believe that with the right focus, both sporting and academic endeavours can realized.
2. Sharing the Plant. On a broader point, the situation at Combermere demonstrates that in an emergency situation, consideration must be given to the idea of sharing the plant. Depending on geographic location of any particular school, there should be plans drawn up where the nearest school infrastructure is used to deliver education over the short term with some adjustment for time. For example, Combermere School is relatively close to St Leonard’s Boys or The St Michael School, both of which close around 2 in the afternoon. Either of these locations could be pressed into service from 2.00 p.m. to 7.00 p.m. to deliver education to the affected students. In some instances, the school that may be required to do the sharing may have to adjust their school times and other considerations. It is impossible to go into all the details for every instance, but where any school is affected for whatever reason, the Ministry should have a contingency plan in place in order to minimize the inconvenience. Communication of such plans with the various stakeholders is vital so that there would be little or no uncertainty which can lead to a lack of confidence.
3. Other infrastructure. If, for some reason, sharing the plant may not be possible or feasible and, especially in the case of nursery and primary schools, the use of facilities such as local churches, recreational facilities and the like should be pressed into service with the appropriate adjustments to the time table and logistics for transportation.
4. Technology. The Ministry has been slow to adopt and embrace the use of technology in schools. The proliferation of mobile devices and the widespread use of the Internet make it possible to deliver education services. Facebook Live is but the latest tool that could be utilized by teachers to deliver the curriculum in addition to all the other technical solutions available. In the 21st century, every opportunity to incorporate technology into the delivery of education services should be embraced. I cannot stress how important this could be since a child could be “away” from school and still participate if there were clear rules and guidelines for accessing a school’s networked infrastructure so that lessons need not be “missed”. It is my view that the teaching profession should of necessity stay abreast with technology in order to remain relevant in the process of delivering education.
I know my status as a candidate for the Barbados Labour Party may be perceived by some as a bias, but I hope that the stakeholders and the powers that be can take some small part of these suggestions and formulate credible alternative plans to avoid any further national disgraces when it comes to the delivery of education in Barbados.
(Ryan Straughn is an UWI Cave Hill and Central Bank of Barbados trained economist and endorsed BLP candidate
for Christ Church East Central.