We carried a story earlier this week which quoted union leaders as stating the obvious – teachers are exposed to COVID-19 in schools. The story went on to say that the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) was concerned about what it described as an “outbreak” at a single school.
The Presidents of both the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and the BUT lamented the fact that there were breaches of protocols at some institutions.
BUT’s Rudy Lovell said: “The Ministry has made a decision not to close any schools, so we would want our members, wherever possible, to follow the protocols. But we would also want the Ministry to make sure that they ensure that the protocols that they would have indicated would be in place are in place to facilitate the physical distancing.”
The BSTU’s Mary Redman questioned who would do the teaching when the professionals fell ill en masse.
“The fact of the matter is that if teachers are not able to teach because they are sick or exposed, who will teach the children? If teachers are falling sick and if teachers are being exposed to children or colleagues who are ill . . . then no one will be able to come out to school,” Redman had said.
While we understand what the union leaders are saying as they represent their constituents, their comments have raised a few eyebrows and much concern.
Chief Education Officer Dr Ramona Archer-Bradshaw responded to the unions’ concerns a day later.
She said: “I spoke to the Ministry of Health and they are not aware of any outbreak at our schools. There are cases, however, at various schools. The Ministry is placing in the forefront the safety of our students, our teachers, and our supporting staff. So, if we are guided by the Ministry of Health and Wellness to close a school because there is a spread, we will do so and if there is a spread within a school, we will let the public know. There is nothing to hide.”
We have no reason not to believe that the Ministry is doing its best to strike a balance. Its concern and loyalty cannot be to teachers alone, not when thousands of students are depending on them to deliver sound education. Teachers must meet the Ministry half-way and vice versa.
In this global pandemic, short of staying at home with zero contact with any other human being, one will always be “exposed to COVID”.
In this reality, teachers are exposed to COVID at home, at church, at the supermarket, at the movies and travelling in a friend’s car. Every single activity that involves another human being places another human in harm’s way, especially with the more contagious variants.
Unlike many, they have had the opportunity of carrying out their duties remotely for some time now. Unlike the case in many other professions, their working hours have shortened while their pay remains the same.
Many have said on social media and call-in programmes that teachers believe their profession to be more important and special than others. Indeed, it is. We owe them much. But in the current circumstances let good sense prevail.
We are all facing the same odds.
For the most part, all professionals are now working and functioning as we continue to record COVID-19 cases daily.
The police cannot respond to a crime virtually. Garbage cannot be collected virtually. Road repairs cannot be carried out virtually. Public transport drivers cannot get folks to and fro virtually. There are thousands of workers who are required to have face-to-face contact with people five days a week, every week. This is our reality.
All workers, in every industry, put themselves at risk every day they report to work. Is the situation ideal? No. But we are all trying to make the best of it as we aid in rebuilding our society and our economy.
It has long been established that many students need physical classes in order to make strides in education. Many have fallen through the cracks in the last two years of the pandemic. Therefore, teachers are called upon, like all other professionals, to carry out their duties as safely as possible.
Barbadians appreciate teachers. We respect what teachers do and the sacrifices they make. But the reality is that teachers are workers, like all of us, and therefore they too must navigate the ever changing challenges of this epidemic.
This editorial was updated to correct statements incorrectly attributed to the President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union Mary Redman. The Barbados Today Inc apologises for any inconvenience caused.