Recently-appointed Director of the Education Reform Unit in the Ministry of Education Dr. Idamay Denny is standing her ground and will not be apologising for encouraging children to urge their parents and relatives to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
She told Barbados TODAY that she does not think her comments were out of order and there is nothing to apologise for because her main concern was that the most vulnerable children in Barbados are being robbed of an education due to the suspension of in-person classes.
The veteran educator’s stance is in spite of a barrage of criticism levelled against her today on social media after a clip of her contribution to the Media Resource Department’s series Let’s Talk sessions: Conversations with the Minister held on Wednesday surfaced. The session was attended by Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw, chief education officer Dr. Ramona Archer-Bradshaw, as well as some children and their parents.
In the clip, Dr. Denny spoke directly to the children and implored them to tell their parents they needed to do “what is necessary” to get them back in school.
“Now you are too young to be vaccinated but your parents can be and your older siblings can be. So tell your parents if they and your older siblings, who are older than 12 years old, are not vaccinated that they are doing you harm. They are not allowing you to get the development that you need in order to develop into the kind of citizens that your country can be proud of,” she told the children.
But while some people, including the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) spokesperson of Education, Neil Marshall contends that Denny’s comments were reprehensible and she should apologise and Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn thinks she should be sacked, she maintained that she did and said nothing out of place.
“Any person who thinks I did, that is their feeling. There is a saying that when good men do not speak, evil prevails. I think ordinary people need to speak up about what is happening in Barbados now with this pandemic. You know the children who are going to suffer as a result of not going to school face-to-face? It is the ordinary people’s children and that is my concern. That these children, many of whom do not have the resources to benefit from online teaching, are being harmed by the people around them.”
The former deputy chief education officer, emphasised her point by referring to a Caribbean Development Bank-sponsored study on the impact of the COVID pandemic on education in the region. Denny said it showed that children have suffered between two and 24 months learning loss, as a result of being out of face-to-face school and she stressed that the hardest impacted were the children from poor and vulnerable homes because some of them do not have internet access, electricity and other means to access online learning. According to her, it means that the longer they are out of school, the more difficult it is going to be for them to catch up, to get the prerequisites that they need to build their learning on.
“So somebody needs to tell the parents to give your children a thought because your children are the ones who are suffering most in this. When I was going to school, the school used to give us messages to give our parents because the school can influence the society too. It does not have to be that the school is a microcosm of the society, the school can take the lead. So I used to take home messages, ‘my teacher said you have to do so and so and so’ and my mother used to follow those dictates. There is nothing wrong with giving children messages to give their parents,” she said.
“Well who wants me to apologise can call me and tell me to apologise. I don’t think I was out of order. I think we have reached a stage in Barbados with this pandemic that … we should not just be leaving it to the politicians. People who have a voice need to tell Barbadians we need to stop what we are doing because we are injuring our children.
“My concern is for the poor and vulnerable children in Barbados who are being robbed of schooling. I am not going to apologise for having that concern. I am where I am because I had an opportunity to get educated, because I come from a poor and vulnerable background. I want the poor and vulnerable children in this country to have the same opportunity that I had. They are going to be robbed of it if they cannot go to school,” Dr. Denny reiterated.
However, Marshall, while noting that he supports vaccinations, abhorred what he considered was the ministry official using minors as influencers to their parents. He was concerned that if this act was allowed to go unreprimanded it could be used as a gateway for children to challenge the choices of their parents.
“I think it is unethical and it is wrong in all respects. Children don’t lead parents. Parents are there with the responsibility of leading and guiding children, sometimes, however misinformed we think the parents may be but that is not our call. It is wrong and why it is wrong is because we can carry it to the logical absurdity to which it can go.
“We are in a predominantly Christian society, who’s to stop anyone from telling a young Rastafarian child their parents are doing them a disservice and they don’t like them and they are endangering their spiritual well-being by not sending them to a Christian Sunday school?
“Let us leave parenting to parents to make the best choices that they have for their children and what Ms. Denny should be focusing on is if she has a message to give in that regard she should be giving it to parents through the respective PTAs. The Government already has its own efforts in relation to that nationally in speaking to all adult Barbadians, parents or otherwise, and she can add or amplify that if she wishes to speak to the parents themselves.
“On sober reflection, Ms. Denny knows that she was wrong and the powers that be know that and I think that an apology to the parents of Barbados should be forthcoming,” Marshall said.
On the other hand, Franklyn, spokesman for the Opposition People’s Party for Democracy and Development, conveyed the view that due to the tension that revolves around the pandemic, it was unfair to burden children with such information especially given the fact that some adults themselves are having difficulties coping with the same information.
He said: “. . . You do not want to put more pressure on these little children. Right now they are out of school, they are not socialising, and you are putting fear in their hearts now. Let the parents be parents. She had me real vex. You cannot print the words that I said to myself when I watched the video. She is intimidating. Where are the parents? The parents should be outraged and we have a way in Barbados of sitting down and taking it but when you do that to my children, I got a problem and I will let you know I have a problem and as a result, you will have a problem too. But you don’t sit down and let people abuse your children- this is child abuse. She should be reported to the Child Care Board and kept away from children. When you beat children that is one type of abuse but this is psychological abuse that she is inflicting on those children and I don’t feel that she should get away with it.”
Child advocate Shelly Ross also voiced concern about the mental health of the island’s children as she described it as unfortunate that children were used in this manner to get a message to parents.
“Children are presently stressed enough and must be confused with all that is going on and no needed pressure on them can be a good thing at this time. The mental health of children should always be on our minds as we speak to them and act on their behalf. What was said is not really wrong, it is just the audience that is wrong. Today we are under a lot of stress and not everything we do is going to be ‘perfect’ or right on the first go,” Ross said while noting that she did not think the situation required any kind of reprimand.
Likewise, the National Council of Parent Teachers Association did not believe that the comments were worthy of reprimand. In a statement issued this evening it said: “Due to the age level of the children involved in the session and the fact that vaccination is currently a sensitive topic in our society, one can understand how the message would have been received in more than one light. However, we believe no ill was intended by Dr. Denny.” (KC)