The discussion which ensued on affairs pertaining to the public education system in the Well of Parliament on Tuesday, March 5, 2019 has been keenly noted by the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT). The Union’s membership continues to reiterate its considerable dissatisfaction with the tone of certain passages of the dialogue.
As a teachers’ union, we have a critical role to play in stemming the increasing tide of attrition and burnout, in fighting to improve the conditions of service of our membership, and in inspiring a new generation to embrace the profession which creates all other professions.
Therefore, the BUT is compelled to respond to some of the pronouncements which remain of primary significance to the education system, education administrators and educators, and the teachers’ unions.
The current crises in education did not arrive unannounced. Neither did they suddenly materialise overnight. It took decades for us to reach this juncture.
The union submits that while there was an undeniable degree of merit in the disclosures during the exercise, we are alarmed by any utterance(s) which may serve to bring the teaching service into disrepute.
Several members of the BUT and the wider teaching fraternity provide assistance for needy students out of compassion and a humane desire to see those pupils continue to attend school regularly in order to make full use of the educational opportunities afforded.
Towards knowledge and truth
We are especially mindful of the constraints accorded by the nation’s economic situation. No less are we mindful of the opportunities for at-risk children to be consumed by the allure of illicit activities. It is this social consciousness which we treat to, filling the breach and fostering a sense of hope.
Any number of educators has purchased, presently purchase and will continue to purchase school supplies for their current students as well as former students; provide drinks, breakfast items, snacks and/or lunch—at times taken from their own kitchens; donate new school uniforms, shoes, ribbons and crests; supply funds for petty fees and the Textbook Loan Scheme; print students’ assignments at home where no other alternative exists; and may offer additional tuition without charge during the school year, and holidays, to the underprivileged without any ulterior motive, self-aggrandisement, attempt at self-advertisement or want for acclaim.
Therefore, many parents and guardians will recognise the contribution of teachers beyond their regular duties and responsibilities. These individuals will view the episode on Tuesday as an affront to those into whose care they assuredly entrust their children on a daily basis. Likewise, educators may tend to consider it as patent disregard of their individual and collective service.
Does education not affect our national development?
Teachers and teachers’ rights
The vast array of problems cited on Tuesday is intimately familiar to a wide cross-section of current and former educators. Nonetheless, the conversation on contractual arrangements has rightfully drawn strong rebuke from our constituent body.
The union acknowledges that Cabinet Ministers may, from time to time, make by-laws or regulations that expedite the practical management of various schemes as established by Acts of Parliament. As a model employer, however, Government is obligated to take cognisance of and observe the standing of the Barbados Union of Teachers as the largest representative body of teachers.
A number of important pieces of legislation and formal agreements specifically address what may and may not be required of staff. The union notes the General Orders prescribe the areas, related to the general conditions of service of officers and employees, on which negotiations may proceed between the Government and accredited trade unions under section 10.5. The Orders also state there should be consultation with the accredited representatives of all categories of officers and employees on any proposals affecting the conditions of service of such officers and employees as per section 10.6. (The subject of the Master Teacher comes to the fore in this regard.) Rather than placing any specific category of public servants on contracts, systems can be put in place to remedy any deficiencies which may exist among workers who did not assign or appoint themselves to their various posts. Additionally, any new system of accountability and recall which is being proposed will have to encompass the entire public service (public officers and employees) as well as those responsible for the menu of national policy.
Section 18 (j) of the Education Regulations confers to the principal the authority to administer corporal punishment when necessary and delegate to the deputy principal and senior teachers, where applicable, the authority to administer corporal punishment. The Union also reminds teachers of the duty of care which we are bound to exercise.
With respect to suspected cases of abuse and assault of students, the lawful avenues for recourse were correctly and readily identified for parents during the discussion in the Well of Parliament. Most disconcertingly though, little mention was made of the rights of teachers on Tuesday. This omission prompts the union to place the following on record: within the large complex of the legal system exists a hierarchy of laws, and the importance of each law is measured by its source and by its permanence.
The Constitution of Barbados is supreme law. The fundamental rights and freedoms of every person in Barbados are enshrined in Chapter 3 of the Constitution. These rights and freedoms are protected and fully articulated by Section 11 thereof.
We applaud the call for an end to the confrontational relationship that exists between some teachers and parents at the island’s schools and the effort to discourage the occasion of threatened or actual violence. The union also places on record its frank disapproval of any conduct of a violent nature as well as any assertions which deviate from the principle of nonviolence.
However, the pronouncements encouraging parents to visit the Ministry of Education and requests for the police to do their work as it relates to matter of corporal punishment may undermine attempts to service and strengthen the relationship between parents and teachers.
Teachers are strongly urged to peruse the Education Act and Regulations so as to acquaint or reacquaint themselves with the particulars of the legislation. Of relevance are Sections 64 (disturbances at school), 64A (the search of pupils), 64B (damage to school property) and 64C (counselling and rehabilitation) of the Act.
We, however, are of the belief that several of the monetary sanctions prescribed therein do little to truly represent a deterrent. A glaring example is the $500 fine liable to be levied on summary conviction under section 64B (1).
The union will stridently oppose and resist any efforts, whether implicit or explicit, which threaten to trespass or encroach upon the civil or professional rights of teachers. We shall not remain silent where and when teachers are openly subject to victimisation or recrimination, foremost as one body.
Therefore, we underscore that any proposed changes to the existing conditions of service for teachers should not be proclaimed prior to the negotiation process being engaged and exhausted, notwithstanding the union’s right to arbitration or adjudication, to the satisfaction of the parties involved. This applies to any measures directly or indirectly designed to impact upon the terms and conditions of service.
The union has also registered complaints about overcrowded schools and that there is a noted correlation between class size and discipline.
That being said, the union is mindful of its responsibilities to its membership as much as it remains cognizant of the challenges which confront teachers in general.
Studies and reports
A number of core problems and associated issues have been identified in a series of studies undertaken and reports submitted in this country over the years. These reports would have required a significant outlay of financial resources. Several of them outline expansive discussions and detailed recommendations which could well serve to address a range of the current issues facing our education system.
Some of these reports record a number of common observations. Among other things, the array of deficits known to present included: evidence of lack of implementation of recommendations; post-implementation deficiencies in monitoring systems; a lack of functional inspection and maintenance protocols; and the continually ineffective allocation of resources and personnel.
In conjunction, these factors have served to further compound the issues, frustrate teaching and learning, and stymie efforts to resolve the core issues and responses to subsequent spill-over effects.
Safety and security
A 2006 survey on violence, cited in the presentation on Violence and Indiscipline in Schools: Challenges – The Experience of Barbadian Secondary Schools (2008), submits, “The potential for tragedy is clearly and disturbingly presented in the findings of this survey. . . . One in five students has carried a weapon to school. . . and the majority of these weapons have the potential for serious or fatal injury.”
It is clear, after more than a dozen years have elapsed, that school safety and security remain matters of increasingly critical import. Indeed, the BUT regularly registers complaints regarding safety and security along with occupational safety and health matters.
The lack of discipline is the biggest problem facing schools since the role of educational institutions cannot be discharged unless a disciplinary system is put into effect to curb deviance, violence, indiscipline and unruly behaviour. Definitive measures need to be urgently formulated, methodically evaluated, critically selected, systematically implemented and consistently monitored. Any commitment to a project of this nature will require dedicated staff and funding to service the timely generation of the statistical data necessary to inform future policy.
While the financial commitment of successive administrations to education has remained, Barbados can ill afford to maintain a system where deviant, undisciplined, unruly and violent behaviour consistently threaten the delivery of quality education.
The union exists in order to defend its members’ rights. We will continue to agitate for the security of tenure, adherence to the guidelines for teacher evaluation, issuance of incremental credits and allowances due, additional support staff, the provision of ancillary staff, improved school safety and security, and better facilities and equipment.