Government ministries responsible for education, public works and healthcare have all come under heavy fire from the country’s largest teachers’ union for an apparent neglect of infrastructure that could have serious implications on the health and wellbeing of educators.
President of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Pedro Shepherd, in a release sent to Barbados TODAY, complained about crumbling roads and leaking primary school buildings which become much more apparent during times of heavy rainfall.
Among the infrastructural complaints is the state of the road leading to St Luke’s Brighton Primary School which the union described as the “worst road leading to any school, village, residence or anywhere in St George”.
“The Barbados Union of Teachers is calling on the Ministry of Education to collaborate urgently with its counterpart Ministry to do something before teachers are asked not to travel to work using that road,” Shepherd said.
“The nearby Brighton Plantation makes it worse by ploughing the land adjacent to the road with the contours running east/west bringing the topsoil into the road. This is a safety hazard in need of immediate attention. Workers, students, and parents at that school cannot be asked to drive, walk and ride on that road any longer. There are roads being done that can wait. This has to be a priority,” the statement added.
When contacted on Wednesday evening, Chief Education Officer Joy Adamson told Barbados TODAY she had not received any complaints about the road situation, but stressed that “[the Ministry of Education] doesn’t fix roads”.
In a separate interview, the BUT’s second vice president Rudy Lovell said he has been bombarded with calls from teachers about the deplorable condition of the road. He was adamant that it would serve the learning process better if the pothole-filled road is fixed to facilitate entry to and exit from the school.
“All we are asking is for somebody to intervene on behalf of the students and teachers. Even though we represent teachers, we always put our students first, and to have students walking on this road in this condition is unacceptable,” he told Barbados TODAY.
In response, Dwight Sutherland, Member of Parliament for St George South, the constituency in which the school is located, said he has lobbied for that road and others in the constituency to be fixed and he was hoping the work would be done within the next year.
“I recognise that to get to and from St Luke’s Brighton School when it rains is a very challenging task and people have to walk in the cane ground, the roads are flooded and some cars cannot pass,” he said.
“I don’t think it is negligence on the Government’s part. It is just so many roads that we have to fix, and I am not at all disgruntled or upset by the comments coming from the teachers at the school because I share the same views that the roads should be fixed. But timing is everything and I reckon within the next year we shall have this road addressed.”
The BUT has also raised alarm about leaking roofs that have led to flooded classrooms at a number of schools, including the Wilkie Cumberbatch Primary School in the Pine, where the union’s president teaches.
Shepherd complained that the staff room, principal’s office, clerk/typist’s room, school meals serving areas, the janitor’s quarters, and several classrooms were all “drenched” during Wednesday’s downpours.
“Enough is enough. Are we going to wait until a roof collapses on someone to fix this perennial problem?” he asked.
“At the St George Primary, there are leaking roofs on the plant and flooding when the rain falls as well. Classrooms are saturated with water which flows in from the corridors…. [There are] persons being shocked from light switches, from faulty circuitry as well. Many of our schools are suffering from a lack of attention – shortage of furniture, general workers, and Internet connectivity,” his statement added.
While acknowledging that she had received complaints about the situation at Wilkie Cumberbatch, Adamson could not confirm similar reports at the other schools.
“We will evaluate the situation at Wilkie and having received the report, we can take action now,” the Chief Education Officer told Barbados TODAY.
The union is also calling on the Ministries of Labour and Health to investigate environmental problems plaguing teachers, students and ancillary staff at Lawrence T. Gay Primary School. He said the situation there is “almost at crisis point”.
“Staff are complaining of itching skin, burning lips, swollen faces, etc. While the BUT applauds the Ministry of Education for a fantastic job done over the last five years, it is not good enough for the other Ministries involved to drag their feet while human life is at risk.
“The BUT therefore calls on the Ministries of Labour and Health to find the source(s) or close the school. We certainly would not want another Louis Lynch,” the statement warned.