The brief Easter Holiday officially ends in a mere four days and come Tuesday students will be back in the classroom for the start of the final term of this school year.
Disappointingly though, their return for the 11-week Trinity term is once again overshadowed by the irreconcilable feud involving the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and the Ministry of Education.
On Tuesday, a tough talking BUT president Pedro Shepherd sounded an ominous warning of a “catastrophic collapse” of the Barbadian education system unless there were sweeping administrative changes, starting at the top.
Using the analogy of a car, he declared, “The vehicle can be repaired but we need to change the bodywork men, and definitely it can’t be the 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.”
Back on April 4, some 200 secondary school teachers took to the street of The City in a March of Respect to vent their frustration that troubling issues have not yet been addressed by Education Minister Ronald Jones and his team at the Dame Elsie Payne Complex.
President Mary Redman warned then, “this demonstration is just the beginning . . . we are tired of writing letters, we are tired of being given the run around, we are tired of being dismissed and we are tired of being excluded. So this is going to be a year of action.”
Outspoken Minister Jones hit back at the BSTU warning the teachers that he would not “crumble to threats.” He also made it clear that the ministry would dock the pay of protesting teachers.
Said Jones, “. . . if you work you should be paid. If you don’t work, I don’t see how you can be paid.”
It all sounds too familiar. We have been here before and the utterances from all sides clearly show we have been spinning top in mud.
It is baffling that Jones, a former president and vice president of the BUT who revealed recently that he had helped to write the constitution of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados, cannot summon a meeting with all the relevant parties to settle their differences.
It is disturbing that professional teachers who train and nurture the best minds of this country still have a laundry list of unresolved woes- violence in schools, safety and health, teachers’ appointments, payment for school-based assessments and more dating back to forever.
Equally, teachers must be aware that threats of industrial action during a term when students are preparing for internal and external exams cannot be supported. Students should not be subjected to disruptions.
Each side claims to have the children’s interest at heart and we have no doubt that both Jones and the two unions are sincere. But where’s the action to address the problems.
This prolonged, acrimonious, boxing match is frankly tiring and we aver it is time for all parties to call a ceasefire.
Once both sides continue to play hardball, all will be losers, especially our children.
Frankly, the time has come for Mr Jones, Mr Shepherd and Ms Redman to admit that settling the dispute is beyond them and now is the time for a fearless and wise mediator with sound negotiation techniques to intervene.
No one stands to gain from this confrontation between the distressed unions and a ministry that appears to be conducting business as usual.
Too much is at stake and an urgent solution is in the best interest of the ministry, our teachers and most of all, our children.