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JUST LIKE IT IS: Alexandra impasse

Peter Simmons

JUST LIKE IT IS: Alexandra impasse

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I am in no position to make a judgment on who’s right and who’s wrong in the continuing Alexandra School impasse between the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and principal Mr Jeff Broomes.
That is a normal position for people with my academic training. The major concern is discerning why groups or individuals behave in a particular manner at a particular point over a particular matter. The emphasis is on human behaviour in a social context.
As I write this early Friday morning, the union is on its third day of protest action with more than 30 members of teaching staff withholding their labour. The major sufferers continue to be the unwitting students whose education is the reason for schools, principals and teachers.
In other words, there is a symbiotic relationship between teachers and students in the physical setting of a school. Like in most organizations, there is a hierarchical structure. At the top is the principal who has primary responsibility for maintaining order in the school.
In every organization where human beings interact, from time to time there will be differences relating to myriad issues between the top person in the hierarchical structure and colleagues with whom he works. The major difference between humankind and animals is the ability to communicate verbally.
This facility provides a means of discussing and settling whatever problems crop up. When there is an impasse, there are agencies such as unions and associations from which each group may seek support. In the current saga, there is the Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools and the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union, respectively.
Above and beyond these groups, there is the Ministry of Education which has ultimate responsibility. In the current imbroglio, I have been unable to discover what role the ministry and its principal functionaries, the Minister, Chief Education Officer (acting for over two years) and Permanent Secretary, have played either collectively or individually.
The BSTU action was not unexpected. Before the end of the last term, the union signalled a problem and its intention, if it was not settled, to take action at the beginning of this term. It has followed through on the warning issued weeks ago with wider participation possible.
I must, therefore, ask what action was taken by the ministry, with the sword of Damocles hanging over the innocent heads of students yearning to be taught, to resolve this situation during the school holiday pre-empting any loss of critical teaching and learning time?
On the third day of withdrawal of teaching services, I was not aware that any of the principal ministry functionaries named earlier had said or done anything to shed light on official thinking or got involved in an effort to end the impasse.  
Once again, either dilatory action or no action at all has been the official response to a situation demanding immediate, salutary action. This has resulted in evolution of a vacuum. One of the best known history lessons is that in such a situation an undesirable outcome may eventuate.
That the students, some of whom will be sitting CXC examinations in a matter of months, have been deprived of trained tuition by teachers paid to prepare them, is most unfortunate and can hardly enhance their results.
This is not the first time that there have been problems between the Alexandra principal and teaching staff. All parents want their children in a school with as few problems as possible where their education is paramount and conflict between the school’s management and teaching staff minimal.
From comments in the Press, it is obvious that parents will not in future choose Alexandra as one of the preferred schools for their children. This will result in a diminution of the quality of the future 11-Plus intake with a likely deleterious impact on the school’s academic reputation.
A conflict-free environment is always congenial to the educational process. Our education through the years has been the envy of other countries in the Caribbean and beyond. Our 166 square miles have produced several outstanding scholars who have been around the world and covered themselves and Barbados in glory.
Industrial action and organized collective behaviour are two of the social changes which characterized the reordering of our society for the better. Broad-based, well-established associations have grown into powerful unions, sometimes emotive and volatile in pursuing the interests of their members.
The value added benefits of peaceful, organized collective behaviour have propelled Barbados’ growth and development forward in the last 70 years and produced two National Heroes.
At no time, as far as I know, were students and their education held to ransom. What is happening in the first few days of 2012 is naught for our collective comfort.
No effort must be spared to end it without further delay.