President of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Pedro Shepherd is warning of a “catastrophic collapse” of the Barbadian education system unless there are sweeping administrative changes, starting at the top.
In a blistering attack on the record of the Ronald Jones led-Ministry of Education, during his address at the BUT annual conference at Almond Bay Caterers Tuesday morning, Shepherd stated that Jones’ tenure had resulted in a runaway situation, evidenced by the disciplinary woes and tumultuous relationship between teachers and the ministry.
Unfazed by the presence of Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education Senator Harry Husbands at the head table, Shepherd made it clear that the ministry under its current stewardship and advisory body was not up to the task.
“The vehicle can be repaired but we need to change the bodywork men, and definitely it can’t be same driver. The two or three navigators in the vehicle, who refused to alert and offer technical advice ahead of the collision, may also be better off not travelling in the repaired vehicle. The society cannot take much more of what education spews out,” Shepherd said to a mixture of loud applause and dirisive laughter.
This is not the first time that Shepherd has called for the back of Jones, himself a former BUT president, who has clashed repeatedly with the union – as well as the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union – on a number of issues, including violence in schools; safety and health; school closure and policy relating to water outages and stench; terms leave; study leave; and payment for the marking of school-based assessment projects.
During a bitter standoff last year, made worse by the ministry’s decision to dock the pay of 80 per cent of teachers who had attended union meetings during school hours, the union leader had also called on the minister to go.
However, this time he has gone further by also calling for the back of senior officials in the ministry, likely including Husbands and Chief Education Officer Karen Best, who, like Jones, are former BUT presidents.
Shepherd was also scathing in his criticism of the manner in which the ministry chooses candidates to sit on the various school boards, arguing that those chosen had little qualification for the post other than being political stooges.
He contended that the same measuring stick was often applied when it came to the appointment of principals and senior teachers.
“Some of our problems may be traced to the handpicking of senior teachers, heads of departments, deputy principals and principals of our schools in the recent past. There must be certain horses for certain courses and it is probably because of the aforementioned that our schools have seen an upsurge in deviant behaviour to the point where this country’s education system is destined for a catastrophic collapse.
“The practice of a Minister of Education nominating some political persons to chair and serve on school boards needs to be revisited. We have found that some of those members have not a clue what their role is on these boards,” he added.
The trade unionist said in addition to the corroding policy framework of the education system, a significant percentage of the physical infrastructure suffered from neglect, creating an unhealthy environment for teachers and students alike.
He revealed that the BUT was called in to assess environmental related concerns in 11 schools just last year alone.
“During the last year the union had reason to visit a number of schools and to make representation on several levels on a multitude of matters, even though we were told that we have the best system in the world. Our intervention revealed in but two cases, serious environmental concerns affecting staff. From sewage at St Lawrence Primary to mould at St Paul’s Primary to termite and fleas at the Ann Hill School, there are some very serious health and safety matters that need to be addressed across the system,” Shepherd stressed.
The BUT president also called for the dissolution of the individual school boards, and the formation of just four to govern the 22 schools across Barbados.