The Ministry of Education was under no obligation to seek the unions’ “rubber stamp” to conduct meetings with teachers, Minister Santia Bradshaw has said.
While vowing not to be distracted as she charts the way forward, Bradshaw contended that Tuesday’s meetings to discuss the September 21 reopening of schools allowed “disengaged” union members and unrepresented teachers to share their perspectives.
Nevertheless, the Education Minister expects discussions on the resumption of school to continue between her Ministry and the unions.
Bradshaw was responding to accusations of disrespect, levelled at her ministry by leaders of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and the Association of Public Primary School Principals (APPSP).
The unions contended that a decision to meet with hundreds of teachers at the Wildey Gymnasium was a deviation from an agreement reached during discussions with them less than a day before. BSTU President Mary Redman also argued that such a large meeting in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic was placing some lives at risk.
While giving the representative bodies a sound chiding, Bradshaw acknowledged that the smaller meetings with teachers, previously agreed upon, needed to be adjusted at short notice. She explained that information was only disclosed to unions to strengthen communication with them.
“I believe they may have taken that to mean that we were seeking their rubber stamp for holding the meeting, but things changed in the course of a short timeframe. We were able to secure this gymnasium, which was capable of holding the large number of teachers that we wanted. To try to do it over the number of schools we had initially looked at would have presented problems in terms of the length of time our discussions would have taken,” the Minister explained.
“It was not a disrespect of the union in any way and I have explained that to the teachers and I think that they understand the sincerity with which I operate.”
In further defence of the Ministry’s stance, Bradshaw declared that none of the unions represents all teachers and even among the ranks of the unions are “frustrated” individuals.
“There are some teachers who have become disengaged by the process because it seems as though everything always seems to be a fight with the Ministry of Education. These are some of the teachers who came here today and said first-hand that this is how we feel and we are grateful for the opportunity that the Minister and the Ministry have given them to express and share their views for the first time in a long time,” she told reporters.
Referencing her recent fight with cancer, she added: “I think people who know me know that I am very focused… and I kept focused because I understood that regardless of what was going on in terms of my health, my responsibility to the children of this country is greater than anything else; and, therefore, I will not be distracted by the noise of persons who I believe should know better, because on coming to office I have probably met with the unions and all of the stakeholders more than any other Minister in the last decade.”
Bradshaw added that just as the Ministry invited the unions to discuss other matters, such dialogue would be allowed to continue after the series of meetings with teachers. ([email protected])