EDITORIAL: Extend an olive branch to teachers
WHEN IT COMES to things that matter to Barbadians, few rank higher than education. It is an approach that has contributed immensely to the development of our country for more than half a century and the export of knowledge across the region and beyond.
It is also a major reason why traditionally teachers have been held in such high regard.
The impasse between the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and the Ministry of Education over a number of issues, when viewed against this background, was bound to raise emotions to the point of explosion.
Teachers believe they have legitimate grievances that are not being addressed by those responsible with the speed and in the manner they deem appropriate, while some parents have difficulties with the conduct of some members of the profession and the impact the decision of the BUT to withdraw labour has had on them and their children.
We, like a number of Barbadians, have not been convinced so far that industrial action in the form of the withdrawal of labour by the BUT was warranted, but we wholeheartedly respect the teachers’ right to so do. In fact, we are of the view that the announcement by the union yesterday that teachers would return to the classroom, but from today would not be going beyond the precise terms of their contract, makes sense.
It is therefore time for those who make the decisions at the Ministry of Education to take charge. This week should not end without the scheduling of the meeting being sought by the BUT with Minister of Education Ronald Jones and his top brass.
The “meet-us-by-Wednesday” ultimatum of last week has long expired, and the concept of negotiating under duress with teachers off the job no longer applies. The ministry should therefore seize the opportunity to sit with the teachers.
What we hope both sides would understand is that the concerns don’t run in one direction and improving the working environment in schools requires acceptance that there have to be changes in the way the ministry relates to teachers; how teachers relate to their principals, students, parents and the ministry; the respect and support parents display toward teachers; and the general conduct of a significant portion of children in the school population.
By now it should also be clear that until the dispute between the ministry and the BSTU over the marking of school-based assessments is settled, the working environment in schools will continue to be volatile. It is therefore incumbent on the ministry, despite the legal opinion of the Solicitor General on the issue, that it gets all sides back to the discussion table with the aim of reaching a settlement. It is too small and on the face of it too inexpensive an issue in the grand scheme of things to allow it to fester.
Despite the shots fired across the bow by all sides in this multifaceted set of disputes, and the not-so-flattering comments that have characterised social media in recent weeks, we are not convinced that the good standing of the teaching profession in Barbados has been tarnished.
Of course there are some bad apples masquerading as teachers who would be better placed elsewhere, but by and large the local profession is comprised of honest, dedicated, hard-working men and women who walk into our classrooms daily determined to prepare our children to make the most of what life offers.
They deserve our support. In fact, they have earned our support. We therefore admonish Minister Jones and his top brass to extend the olive branch to the unions, not necessarily to be seen as an admission they are wrong, but in the interest of fostering an enabling teaching environment. We must do it for the sake of our children.