Alarming reports of armed students, violence against teachers and a general air of lawlessness in some secondary schools have prompted at least one trade union to intensify its action.
President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), Mary-anne Redman has called on its more than 600-strong membership and teachers across the country to take a stand in the interest of their safety.
Redman’s rallying cry was made in an interview with Barbados TODAY ahead of Wednesday’s “mass meeting” scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Barbados Workers’ Union’s Solidarity House headquarters. The meeting is intended to address and provide solutions to the worrying trend of violence, which is reaching “disturbing proportions”.
A memo addressed to the union’s general membership indicated that the BSTU’s officers have devised a protocol to guide teachers who feel “threatened or attacked in any way”.
“As members of the BSTU, we must be proactive in safeguarding ourselves and those over whom we have duty of care,” said the release signed by the union’s PRO, Carseen Greenidge, President, Redman and General Secretary, Dawn Grosvenor.
Revealing that over five incidents of violence towards teachers had been recorded for the year, Ms. Redman indicated that the union was forced to respond. One of the recent incidents, which reached the Magistrates’ court, involved a 14-year-old third form boy who attacked a teacher over a cell phone battery. He was remanded to the Government Industrial School after receiving a tongue-lashing from Chief Magistrate Christopher Birch.
“We decided as a union that we had to speak to our members in this regard. The protocol will give teachers insight on what they should do when certain things happen and so on,” said Redman, who added that teachers are very enthusiastic about the meeting.
“Many of them feel very threatened in the school environment. We heard of another incident today. A shop steward from another school called me just today to inform me about another incident. It is very scary, so people are looking forward to being able to voice their concerns.
“But the meeting is not only to voice concerns. We are interested in coming up with possible recommendations to make at the level of the ministry and the schools. If we get our collective heads together, we can see how best we can untangle this problem, which requires short, medium and long-term action,” she added.
The union’s stance has garnered support from the Ministry of Education, Technology and Vocational Training. In a statement released this afternoon, the ministry confirmed that all schools would be closed at 1 p.m. to facilitate the exercise. In addition, Minister of Education, Santia Bradshaw has announced that she will be arriving later this week to address numerous pressing issues relating to education.
Under the previous Democratic Labour Party (DLP) government, teachers were often discouraged from holding such meetings during school hours and on some occasions had their salaries docked for taking such action.
Minister of Education, Santia Bradshaw however revealed that she was in discussion with the Prime Minister over a number of “lingering issues” relating to education and welcomed the union’s initiative.
“They would have indicated to us that they wanted to meet with their membership. This is a serious issue that is affecting teachers and affecting society and I would not want to take the approach taken in the past in terms of trying to obstruct the unions from meeting on issues like this,” she said, while giving some insight on her meeting with PM Mottley.
“I believe that if we leave them unaddressed, it will be catastrophic for the educational system and amongst those are the issues relating to the schools’ plants and the violence in schools, whether that is student-on-student violence, student-on-teacher violence and even teacher-on-student violence.
“I believe the Prime Minister, as chair of the Cabinet and Minister of Finance understands the serious nature of these issues and we wanted to discuss education generally, so she has set aside the time on Saturday for ministry officials, representatives of the unions and the principals of both primary and secondary schools to be able to join us to discuss a meaningful way forward as it relates to a number of issues facing the education system,” said Bradshaw.
Tomorrow’s early closure of public schools will not affect Caribbean Examinations Council CSEC and CAPE exams, which will proceed as scheduled.
The ministry’s press release however indicated that teachers are expected to continue with the marking of Barbados Secondary Entrance Examination papers and gave the assurance that all primary school football tournaments will continue as scheduled.