Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Kay McConney broke her silence Saturday on the ongoing controversy rocking her Ministry, saying “we accept our responsibility … for this unfortunate situation”.
The Government previously accepted an apology from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for conducting an improper survey with students, but McConney stressed that the Ministry in the end held responsibility for the island’s students.
“I want to state that the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational training … we accept our responsibility for the mistakes that have been made in the execution of the pre-test,” McConney said.
“I know that this Ministry must take responsibility for not having checked back well enough to make sure that what we asked to be removed was actually removed, and because I am the Minister with responsibility for this Ministry, the buck stops with me, and I therefore accept responsibility on behalf of the Ministry that I lead for this unfortunate situation.”
McConney said that she herself knew nothing about the survey before Tuesday, where Chief Education Officer, Dr Ramona Archer-Bradshaw, called her during the sitting of Parliament to inform her that news of the controversial questions in test had started to reach Ministry officials, and that subsequently, and investigation into the matter had begun.
At a news conference held by the DLP earlier on Saturday, Democratic Labour Party President Dr Ronnie Yearwood mirrored comments made by many commentators and education professionals who questioned the rationale behind McConney’s silence, saying, “It’s ridiculous at this point that we are hounding and literally every parent in this country is asking the Minister to respond and you have a Minister who has been elected by the people of this country and is failing to do a simple task, come and have a conversation and explain what is the purpose of this test.”
In defence of her actions over the last few days, however, the Minister pushed back on the notion that she was silent or throwing other Ministry officials into the fire to answer questions on her behalf. She said she was in deep talks and consultations behind the scenes.
“I had the choice to either rush to the press, or to rush and understand exactly what happened and rush to action. I choose instead of rushing to the press, to rush to action. I took the time to listen to the very valid concerns of parents and other Barbadians; I felt the fury and I felt your outrage and I understand it,” she said.
“I recognise that the Ministry apologising is not enough, that the Inter-American Bank apologising is not enough, that even though the Prime Minister of Barbados condemned the questions in her presentation yesterday, that too is not enough… this situation calls for clear action that will not just address some of the immediate hurt that has happened, but will also put this ministry on a footing to be able to do better going forward.”
The Minister said a number of steps have been taken in response to the controversy. These include the setting up of a committee to be charged with developing a data collection and ethics policies for educational institutions, the consultants involved in the survey no longer being able to associate with the project, as well as the survey type questions being halted in schools until the data and ethics policy is finalised.
“No further survey type questions will be administered in any school under the data collection ethics policy that has been developed. Emails to this effect have already been sent to principals of our various schools and I want you to know that the data collection instrument, which had the offending questions, was stopped … when the chief and I discovered that these surveys were being done.”
She added, “Mental health support will be available for those students and parents who have been negatively impacted by this situation. A telephone hotline (535-0707), will be available from 9 am until 4 pm, Monday October 10th until November 10th, to be reviewed after. The IDB has agreed to work with the Ministry of Education to ensure this support is provided.”
The Minister stressed that the information collected from the survey has been locked away in a government-owned vault, as the Ministry awaits legal and other advice on the best way forward in terms of destroying the collected data.
The five schools affected by the survey were; Princess Margaret Secondary School, St George Secondary, Graydon Sealy Secondary, Queen’s College and the Coleridge and Parry School, where in total, 733 children have completed it. (SB)