It is unrealistic to expect ten years of wrongs to be put right in nine months.
This is the view of president of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) Mary Redman, amidst recent criticism of the Santia Bradshaw run Ministry of Education, for perceived inaction, as it relates to pressing concerns of educators.
Last week Redman’s counterpart at the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Sean Spencer said his members are increasingly frustrated that their longstanding concerns continue to be trivialized. Spencer charged that there is little to indicate that teachers are better off under the nine-month old ministry than they were during the ten years of turbulent industrial relations under Ronald Jones’ stewardship.
At the time Spencer was referring to issues of security and occupational health and safety at schools, which he believes were not being given the requisite urgency from the ministry.
Spencer said: “We are seeing a lot of PR but when one looks at the actual functionaries within the education system, we have not seen anything as yet to suggest that we are going in a different direction.”
However, this morning Redman made it clear that while actively keeping the issues of the BSTU on the front burner, the BSTU is fully cognizant of the fact that these problems, “built up and allowed to fester for over a decade, could not be realistically solved overnight, even in the best of economic circumstances.
“These problems did not start this year and they didn’t start last year. They have been on-going for a decade. Essentially we have had ten years of neglect of school plants, a total lack of concern for the safety and well-being of our members and those who occupy the school compounds generally . . . complaints expressed and action previously demanded by the union to address them generally fell on deaf ears. All of these matters existing across the system as they do, practically and objectively cannot be fixed in nine months,” said Redman.
The BSTU president also pointed out that given Government’s economic challenges, it is understood that the matters will not be fully addressed as quickly as everyone would like.
“This has to be taken in the context of very profound financial constraints and as members of the Social Partnership we have access to all types of information that help us make decisions at the level of the union. We know that the financial limitations of this administration have constrained what they have been able to do in the nine-month time frame. We are not saying that this in any way diminishes the real concerns of the teachers or the seriousness of the problems that we are facing in the schools,” she explained. She noted however that what has changed is the willingness of the highest ministry officials to communicate with the union and listen to concerns.
“There is a stated willingness, in many areas, to work more closely with the union. The explanation for the lack of faster action, as expressed by the ministry in many instances, has been a lack of funds and sometimes a lack of appropriate information from school administrations.”
Redman noted that the situation must also be assessed within the context of a change of three permanent secretaries in the first three months, the health challenges of the substantive minister and the efforts of acting ministers who themselves have their own portfolios.
“The BSTU has never been unreasonable,” she added.
Redman noted that in recent months the Ministry of Education had given the assurance of improved dialogue and increased involvement in decision making as it is related to teachers’ affairs. In her assessment, teachers and the ministry are prepared to work together in a manner that was not encouraged before.
“In fact working together was actively discouraged before. Regarding addressing the environmental problems and other problems at the schools, we are expecting that far more consultation is planned than has been the case before,” she said.
Redman further revealed that she has had discussions with the Minister as this relates to more “democratic” involvement of members of schools experiencing environmental problems as this relates to prioritising and addressing remedial measures at those schools. The union head noted that the teachers are the ones working directly in those environments and are strategically placed to make input.
“We are expecting and demanding far more involvement in things related to education. We are expecting a greatly improved relationship between the Ministry of Education and the teachers’ union because really and truly it cannot get worse than what existed prior.”
Redman made it clear that after ten years of being sidelined, her union has no appetite for dictates from above and prescribes thorough consultation and involvement . . . “inclusion and respect in how we move forward in the best interest of teachers and students in the country”.