Teachers should obey transfer order
MINISTER OF EDUCATION Ronald D. Jones has spoken.
And just in time too, since the issue of teachers’ transfers from and to The Alexandra School has raged all week, and today starts the term when those transfers come into effect.
I was also glad to see the Prime Minister refer in a general way to Alexandra’s woes and let his Minister of Education speak to the current dynamics which will affect a substantial number of teachers, schools and children from this day forward.
Jones did not speak in purely academic terms but prefaced his comment with an excellent biblical analogy: that of the two women who came before young King Solomon over the matter of a baby, which resulted in the wise king offering to cut the child in half, thereby causing the true mother to be identified.
Such analogies do not always make what we in journalism call “good copy” but, in this case, I felt it was timely and true.
Jones said in part: “The [Alexandra] children were being split in half and nobody was stepping back and saying ‘the love of the children must be uppermost, the education of the children must be uppermost’. It was about themselves.”
When the Alexandra impasse was arguably at its worst – at the height of the strike led by the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) last January – those fighting for justice and an end to the irreparable damage done to the Speightstown, St Peter institution saw their dear students as priority No. 3, in my view.
First was their need to be treated as professionals and adults, second was the need to separate principal Jeff Broomes, and a distant third was concern for the children who had been put in the position of having no role in the decision-making and being basically pushed aside to “be seen and not heard” – even now.
Today, however, teachers are concerned about students’ academic welfare as a result of these transfers.
At the height of the impasse it was all about one-upmanship or “one-upwomanship”, as Jones put it last Saturday. Egos ruled from all sides, as the BSTU demanded separation and “no other option” and as Broomes challenged them to “bring it on”.
Now that the state has dealt with the matter as transparently as possible after it had basically got out of hand, the Alexandra teachers who never expected “separation” to be this drastic are up in arms. Why?
Let’s look back briefly. After the matter was taken all the way to Barbados’ ultimate earthly authority, the Prime Minister ordered a commission of inquiry so that the most intricate details of the Alexandra woes, which had by then become the most raging debate in the country, could be fully ventilated.
The inquiry was and remains, in my view, the best legal avenue toward informing the public about the national conflict with a view to resolving it; nor do I see it as overly costly to spend ten per cent of a national education budget to solve such a major education-related problem.
Since then, the findings and recommendations of Commissioner Frederick Waterman have been released, and some are in the process of being implemented – chief among them the separation of Broomes, who will head Parkinson Memorial Secondary from today.
But anyone with a modicum of the sense of fair play would have realized that, in a major way, the teachers at Alexandra also contributed to the conflict, and therefore, the Public Service Commission had to separate them as well.
To put it bluntly, the teachers there were not only averse to Broomes’ management style but felt and displayed an understandable sense of ownership of their beloved school, where some of them had sat, studied, played and taught for over 40 years.
So they had to be moved too, but doing so now has the potential to break the back of the BSTU by scattering the members at the heart of the strike.
But BSTU leader Mary Redman is not the type to play dead, even after a crushing blow like this, and I’m not surprised that the union has brought the argument that teachers hired in the early 1980s can only be transferred on their own consent. Nor would I be shocked if others decide to follow the three teachers in question by “staying put” and quoting other regulations.
But the minister has subtly voiced anticipation of this.
“If I had to advise, I would say to those persons: you know the law. Don’t be persuaded to do the wrong thing and suffer further consequences. Proceed to where you have been transferred,” he said, adding that if there were areas to be disputed, these could be resolved by the court over time.
If the BSTU indeed goes to court and its contention wins, it would add urgency to recommendations by Waterman that a number of areas have to be cleared up in Barbados’ Education Act. But for the time being, our secondary school teachers need to abide by some higher authority – in this case the Public Service Commission – and start bringing an end to this unfortunate imbroglio.
• Ricky Jordan is an Associate Editor of THE NATION. Email rickyjordan@ nationnews.com