We are just days away from the start of the Michaelmas term. Schools across Barbados, from nursery to tertiary, will all receive a fresh group of students. People from age three to adulthood will make their way into educational institutions seeking some level of knowledge to enhance their lives.
There has always been a traditional freshness about this time. Shoes, bags, uniforms and stationery are all spanking new. Parents, too, delight in transporting those who are entering secondary school for the first time. It always brings about a certain feel-good moment when we cover the stories about the first day of school for both primary and secondary students.
Traditionally, there are always hiccups. These can range from unfinished schools, unkempt schools, student hairstyles, length of uniforms transportation issues, or any number of things. For one reason or the other, the transition into this term is not as smooth as we would like.
Barbados TODAY broke the story last Friday that the Ministry of Education hadn’t renewed the contracts of several primary school teachers. We have since learnt that more than 20 teachers were affected by the decision.
It was reported that some teachers would have been teaching for short periods while others were working for much longer periods.
President of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Rudy Lovell said then there had been no discussions with the union. He was incensed about the timing, given that the teachers were only notified a week before the start of their working term.
“If there is a policy that has been enacted, we should have been made aware of that policy. I don’t think this is a decision that can be made without the consultation of the union, given the fact that the people being impacted are members of the BUT. So, we are seeking answers from the ministry before the start of the school year or we will have to take necessary action to protect the rights of our members if they are being infringed upon,” he told Barbados TODAY.
A meeting with ministry officials and the BUT was held on Monday.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the ministry sought to clear the air on the reassignment of temporary teachers.
“As at September 11, 2023, 22 teachers, who had been assigned during the last academic year, remained to be assigned. This is due to the return of the substantive teachers who were on leave,” it said, insisting that its process was nothing new.
“At the end of their assignments evaluation reports are prepared by the principal. Once openings are identified and there are no adverse reports, the temporary teachers are issued contracts, which detail their period of engagement.”
However, even after the meeting at which the ministry said these matters were discussed, the BUT insisted that those teachers be reassigned, as their absence could lead to significant challenges when school begins.
Lovell said: ‘We are still adamant that teachers should be given the opportunity to be reassigned given the fact that the absence of these teachers in the classroom can have a significant effect on the teaching and learning process across several schools.
“We were informed that some schools are short of the staff complement. In some cases, four or more teachers are absent or missing from certain schools. So, given the fact that these teachers are not reassigned, it may add additional pressure on those teachers who will remain in the school system to deal with the remaining students, and it can also hamper the delivery of certain programmes throughout the school.”
So which is it? Is the ratio of students to teachers adequate or is there a shortage of teachers at some schools? It is unfortunate that such would become a national issue of concern on the eve of the new school term.
Could this issue not have been raised, ventilated and addressed earlier? Shouldn’t the teachers, even though temporary and on contract, be notified earlier? As is the case with some school repairs and spruce-ups, it appears that after nine long weeks of summer vacation, this issue is now surfacing.
As we all know, a loss of job not only affects the individual but their households as well.
“Some people are a bit nervous given the commitments they have. Some teachers have children to send to school, some have mortgages, some have other commitments that can only be met with employment,” Lovell said.
We are also aware that job loss occurs and sometimes cannot be avoided. However, this issue should have been handled differently.
The BUT also pointed out that the teachers genuinely want to be in the classroom because teaching is a part of their DNA and they love it.
We sincerely hope that the delivery of education across the island’s 82 primary schools is not compromised. We pray that the number of teachers is indeed adequate and that not a single student falls through the cracks through no fault of their own.