The union representing Government-paid primary school teachers is protesting a new directive from the Ministry of Education regarding the administration of on-line classes which got underway across the island this morning.
The virtual school which requires teachers to work online with students for several hours per day, was introduced by Government after the start of the regular school term was interrupted due to a ban on mass gatherings aimed at halting the spread of the COVID-19 virus which has so far claimed seven lives in Barbados.
But while stating that no complaints had been reported to him from the various schools concerning the conduct of classes today, General Secretary of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Herbert Gittens said all is not well between teachers and the ministry regarding what is expected of them.
In fact, Gittens lamented that the directive sent to them yesterday by the Chief Education Officer has created uncertainty and discomfort among his members.
“They are saying that teachers should be on doing synchronous classes for at least three hours a day. That to me is a bit much to ask because you are saying to a teacher that you have to be doing face-to-face teaching for at least three hours,” he told Barbados TODAY.
The BUT General Secretary noted that teachers can post work and also do face-to-face teaching as a means of applying various approaches.
“So when you are insisting that there should be three hours and you are looking at children of various age groups starting from infants all the way up to secondary level, for different age groups, there will be different time limits. The whole thing about attention span…all of that…has to come into play,” Gittens stressed.
The union official told Barbados TODAY the ministry directive also raises the issue of assessments and doing reports.
“You are talking about absence and present…whether a child is absent…and you are saying to parents that teachers should make themselves available at any time. It is difficult for you to be imposing now, something that generally you don’t do in the real environment. This is an online environment, everybody is home…if a child is home and is accessing and doing the work, this whole thing about absence and present, should not really come into play in this environment,” he declared.
Gittens has therefore appealed to the ministry to be more flexible as they try to adapt to a new system of teaching.
“We are trying a new system. Give us time to work through it because there are going to be kinks, there are going to be issues that are going to come up. But don’t try to make people uncomfortable in this environment,” the BUT leader stated.
“And that is what is needed right now. More consultation with the stakeholders as it relates to what you want to happen so that everybody can be happy. I know that teachers are very willing to try out the system. But if you try to enforce a [new directive] you are going to get challenges,” he added.
“So I think teachers were very concerned yesterday with the tone of the actual message and some of the things that were said in the message as it relates to how you could operate. And the thing is that it just came like, couple hours before you are ready to start the new online teaching,” Gittens said.
He said he knows that principals would have organized their various schools in different ways to manage the system to ensure that no child is left behind. “So to come and impose something completely different now has created some uncertainty and discomfort. Definitely it has,” the spokesman contended.
When contacted, President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) Mary Redman declined to comment at this stage, explaining that she first wanted to send off a letter to the relevant authorities before speaking publicly. [email protected]