Barbados’ main teachers’ union wants full face-to-face teaching to resume, adamant that anything less will be to the further detriment of the country’s children.
However, Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) President Pedro Shepherd is concerned that with overcrowding, particularly in urban schools, and some other institutions in a state of disrepair, education officials will be facing an uphill battle as the new school year opens.
The trade union leader is therefore calling for a comprehensive audit of current school rolls to ensure rural schools receive a more proportionate number of the country’s students, especially for the purpose of physical distancing.
“What the Ministry is going to do, I am not sure, but I have been asking for a full student audit so that schools like St Judes, Brighton, Half Moon Fort, Ignatius Byer and St Elizabeth Primary that are underpopulated, if we can have dialogue with parents to get students sent to those schools as opposed to bypassing those same schools to come to city schools. Then, I believe, we can ease some of the pressure off of the city schools and then the city schools might be able to do face-to-face,” Shepherd told Barbados TODAY.
“Last week we had a meeting with the Ministry and the agenda was technically the reopening of schools, and basically the Ministry is proposing that we have as much face-to-face contact as possible. So every effort is to be made by school administrators to have face-to-face classes unless there is some upsurge in COVID cases,” the BUT president added.
He explained that the push to have students back in the classroom is intended to reverse many of the academic deficiencies identified during the latter stages of the last school year under the ‘hybrid’ approach to teaching.
With the Ministry’s Bounce Back Summer Programme being shelved at short notice, Shepherd believes many first form students will have to endure an extended period of teaching with the sole purpose of bringing them up to the required standard.
“Those students may very well have to do an extra year at the first form level so as to get those deficiencies addressed before they settle into a decent secondary school education,” he said.
“As far as I am concerned, we are still at square one. The class fours would have had their share of inadequate instruction leading into the exam, which was expected. So they too will be going into secondary school with deficiencies,” he further lamented.
Adding insult to injury is the vexing issue of schools that are currently in a state of disrepair, including the Wilkie Cumberbatch Primary School, where Shepherd has been teaching for the last three decades.
“St Paul’s is another one that I am aware of. They were located at two or three sites last school year. St. Catherine’s School (St Philip) is still without a roof on some sections and I noticed some damage to a roof at Ann Hill School. So they are still, I believe, going to be some major challenges in getting face-to-face teaching,” the union leader said.
“I don’t think that some schools should be going face-to-face every day and others doing the blended approach, so the Ministry has to find a way to create that level playing field by having all blended or all face-to-face. But, as I said, their intention is to have either all face-to-face or as much face-to-face for the next term.”
On the hot-button issue of COVID-19 vaccinations, Shepherd said the union rejected the notion of mandatory jabs for both teachers and students.
In any case, he believes adherence to COVID-19 protocols is more important than vaccinations to keep the virus out of schools.
“From our end thus far, we have maintained that it is a matter of choice. Whether the teacher takes it or not is up to the teacher. It is not mandatory and we are not suggesting that it ever be mandatory. It should always come down to a personal choice,” Shepherd concluded.