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PETER WICKHAM: I feel your pain

Peter W. Wickham

PETER WICKHAM: I feel your pain

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Yet again the teachers of this country are embattled and yet again I feel constrained to categorically state my unwavering support for them as they seek to advance their professional status in an environment that has become increasingly hostile to both professionalism and intellectualism. My support for the teachers is firmly rooted in an appreciation of the principle on which they stand, but also stems from the fact that I was also once a teacher and can therefore appreciate the demands of the profession.

There is also the overarching reality that this most recent industrial predicament is but a symptom of a national crisis that is more akin to a cancer that has afflicted the governance of this country.

This time around the BSTU has taken issue with the assumption that teachers should continue marking the school-based assessment (SBA), which is part of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) examination, without compensation. The BSTU is contending that teachers should be compensated for this work and it is a contention with which I can find no difficulty. The teachers are not employed by the CXC and the Government pays the CXC fees to examine students at Government-owned schools, which to my mind establishes a clear line of division between the two entities and their employees. The CXC is to the best of my knowledge not run as a charitable organisation and one presumes that where private educational institutions enter students for examinations were SBAs are required, those institutions make the appropriate arrangements to compensate their teachers for any additional burdens imposed on them by the SBAs and we should expect no less from the Government.

Critics of the teachers’ position have argued that by refusing to mark the SBAs, the teachers are “barking up the wrong tree” since they are not employed by the CXC, but by the Government which is the agency responsible for negotiating the arrangements under which examinations are conducted. Moreover the tradition which previously obligated teachers to do this work dates back to the inception of the CXC in 1972. These two points are reasonable and are supported by the developmental point that prior to the creation of the CXC there was no SBA and this placed students at a severe disadvantage.

As much as these arguments are not without merit, one has also to appreciate the realities of the current industrial relations environment that has been heavily influenced by the attitude of this Government. Recent incidents have done much to destroy the relationship of trust between the ministry of education and its teachers and at any rate the ministry has thus far demonstrated a disinterest in the case being brought by the teachers. We are advised by the BSTU that the ministry has refused to meet with them and hear their grievance as any good employer should. It has preferred to instruct the teachers to mark the SBAs and more recently sought to intimidate them by requesting the names of recalcitrant teachers.

Teachers are under tremendous pressure on account of increased workloads. However, members of the public might not understand the extent to which the pressures under which all public servants labour have impacted on the attitude of our teachers. The ministry has “fixed” the Alexandra issue by reassigning the problem elsewhere. More recently, we heard about issues at another secondary school and concomitant concerns about appointments that have been promised and not realised. These sub-crises are all taking place within a national environment of disappointment and a lack of trust which makes it easy to understand why teachers need to stand their ground.

I really do wish them well.

Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).