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Please, Mr Minister!­

Matthew D. Farley

Please, Mr Minister!­

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“We are not doing well with this crisis, we are not handling it too well.” – Sir Courtney Blackman, former Central Bank Governor.
 As we stand on the threshold of the new academic year 2013-2014, there is a cloud of fear and anxiety hanging over the Public Service since Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler delivered the Financial Statement And Budgetary Proposals last month.
Already, some 40 postal workers are crying foul over the loss of their acting allowances. Close to 100 Customs officers find themselves in the same boat.
A Mike King article in the last Midweek Nation notes there is speculation that some temporary officers could be laid off while several people acting may have to revert to their substantive posts.
The Government’s computerized accounting system (SmartStream), which was a reform initiative to improve financial and human resource management, is being blamed for some of these “hiccups”.
The Government’s decision to impose tuition fees at the University of the West Indies has also sent shivers across the student body at Cave Hill. The Students’ Guild has mobilized over 1 000 signatures as part of its arsenal against what it perceives as a backward step that will create undue hardships for many. Over the next few days, the global picture of the overall impact of the Government’s austerity measures will emerge.
According to last Tuesday’s Daily Nation, doctors at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital fear that a crisis looms if budget cuts to the tune of $35 million go ahead. The frightening fear of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners is that the cuts pose a major threat to the quality of care and the safety of patients.
From tomorrow, over 3 000 teachers and educational administrators will return to their assignments at both primary and secondary institutions. Even before the end of the last school year, schools’ finances were already being streamlined. Goods, supplies and services were not readily available. It is therefore anticipated that access to these goods and services will be more heavily hindered during the upcoming year.
It is against this backdrop that I call for Minister of Education Ronald Jones to insist that his sector be treated differently.
It is my assertion that during this period of austerity, schools must be treated as a special needs sector.
Clerical officers often go on holiday and return to their files which sometimes remain untouched. Apart from the dust which may be disturbed on their return, the fallout is minimal. In the health sector it is not uncommon for even surgeries to be rescheduled or postponed for months or even years. If postal officers go on short-week assignments, snail mail will be further delayed without any major fallout.
Sinckler spoke about not filling permanent posts and cuts in allocations for substitutes and temporary posts. As an educator of over four decades, I cannot conceive of this being applicable to the school system.
There are close to 60 000 students at the nursery, primary, secondary and post-secondary levels. At Graydon Sealy, I have 35 forms that must be taught seven periods daily for five days a week and for 38 weeks in the year. Not reassigning temporary teachers will mean that classes will be unsupervised.
While over the years we have prided ourselves on being able to deliver high quality education, we cannot now allow that to be further compromised. Both internal and external examinations will be put in jeopardy if students remain untaught for a prolonged period. In fact, it can also have an adverse impact on discipline and safety as schools will be unable to exercise that duty of care which the Education Act guarantees. Will the ancillary staff be cut? Will we be able to guarantee well-cleaned classrooms? Are security guards going on a three-day week?
In a Gercine Carter article in the last Midweek Nation, it is stated that the recent Budget cuts have led to the School Meals Department reducing the amount of pasteurized milk it was purchasing from the Pine Hill Dairy. While milk is not a necessary input into the educational product, a different kind of educational diarrhoea will be created if this sector is exposed to the austere “castor oil” measures outlined in this year’s Budget.
To cut education at this time is tantamount to cutting the bone of a sector that is already facing chips and fractures from under-financing. Please, Mr Minister, please!
• Matthew Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education,aand a social commentator. Email [email protected]