by Randy Bennett
Primary school principals have had enough of working under dire conditions and are pleading with the authorities for assistance.
President of the Association of Public Primary School Principals (APPSP) Dr Hyacinth Harris wants a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training (METVT) to find a speedy resolution to problems plaguing the membership.
Delivering the president’s remarks at the association’s Annual General Meeting Friday morning at Solidarity House, Dr Harris said principals were facing several challenges at their respective schools, including inadequate teaching staff and general workers, unsightly school compounds, as well as the issue of appointments of principals.
She said some of the issues had been present long before the COVID-19 pandemic reached the island’s shores.
“It is disheartening to know that at this juncture, principals are still struggling with matters which existed long before the onset of COVID-19 and others that have emerged since then.
“With the commencement of the Michaelmas term, 2020-2021, several schools were unable to reopen to allow the full complement of students to access a five-day week of face-to face-teaching. This was always a concern because of the limited building space. To cope with this predicament, many schools either opted for using multi-facilities or blended teaching and learning. The latter, no doubt, has been to the detriment of numerous students who are unlikely to complete all the units in the various syllabi as they would under normal circumstances,” Harris pointed out.
She added that in the case of those principals who opted for multi-facilities, the persistent complaint is the inadequate supply of janitors to ensure that each building is adequately cleaned and sanitised.
“In all schools, the lack of general workers has also been quite bothersome. Further, the heavy rains that have persisted in recent weeks have resulted in school compounds being encompassed by overgrown bush. Without the services of general workers in the schools, school compounds have become unsightly and serve as habitats for mosquitoes and rodents,” Harris lamented.
The APPSP president said the lack of staff was a troubling issue.
She also revealed that almost half of the principals at primary schools had not been appointed.
“Principals also continue to struggle with an inadequate supply of teachers. As was indicated before the start of this term, the reduction of class sizes to accommodate physical distancing would automatically mean an increase in teaching staff for the face-to-face mode. Clearly, classes cannot be combined under the existing COVID-19 protocols. Hence, any absences among teaching staff automatically translate in some teachers losing their non-teaching periods and/or principals returning to the classroom to perform the duties of the teacher. In the absence of the services of clerk/typists, the latter results in several clerical matters being delayed,” Harris pointed out.
“One would think that, under the current conditions, efforts would be made to at least give principals a sense of personal professional security. Not so. Currently, we are faced with a situation where almost 40 principals from the 84 nursery, special and primary schools, inclusive of New Horizons Academy, are still acting in their posts – many of them for more than three years. To date, nothing has been said regarding their appointments and some of them have not been paid their salaries as principals since December 2019. In fact, from all reports, they have been reverted to receiving the salary that they received as teachers; not even their senior teacher allowance is given to them.”
Harris said principals had had enough and wanted a meeting to discuss the way forward.
“This state of affairs needs to end. To date, responses from the METVT simply indicate acknowledgment of our requests for meetings; the protracted delay in actually convening a meeting needs to end,” she maintained.
“A proactive approach that allows for collaboration with school personnel, that allows for the resolution of issues before they escalate, and that allows for the generation of models designed to bring about improvements in education should aid in eliminating many of the challenges which continue to plague the system.”
She said the association was willing to sit with the METVT to develop a comprehensive package of remedial measures designed to reduce the pre-existing challenges as well as those which the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had presented to primary school education in Barbados.