Students first

Enough is enough.

The time has long passed for Government to take final definitive action on the Alexandra School impasse.

From the Owen Arthur administration to the country’s present leadership, the imbroglio at that excellent Speightstown, St. Peter institution has been going on for seven long years. And these have been seven years too many.

Somewhere in the midst of paper memoranda of understanding, double-speak, ILO conventions, indecision, cries of victimisation, complaints of mental anguish and a host of other self-serving verbal epistles, the students of the school have seemingly not been identified as the priority by all involved. And if there is to be collateral damage in the interest of our nation’s children, then let every Saul fall on his, or her, own sword.

On the surface, and perhaps enhanced by the utilisation of a Commission of Enquiry, this situation appears a difficult and complicated one. But is it really?

The crisis at Alexandra was never institutional, although there are aspects of our Education Act as they relate to authority, roles and functionalities that must be addressed legislatively. The calamity at the school related to specific human resources management issues and personality differences.

The Barbados Secondary Teachers Union’s main target was principal Jeff Broomes and the Commission of Enquiry exposed both his excellent human qualities and mortal shortcomings to all Barbados. The BSTU called for his separation from the school and the employer, though under no legal obligation to acquiesce to Commission or crowd, wisely gave in to the demand.

If the folly that is being played out now was not affecting the education of our children, one could simply chuckle and perhaps recommend it as fertile fodder for insertion into a chapter of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

We are a conservative society and very often prefer to be politically correct and skirt around issues, careful not to offend and mash corns, rather than deal with issues frontally. The education of our children and the importance of providing that in a consistent and enabling environment are too critical to pander to poppycock.

The state as the employer has made a decision with respect to its employees. The state has not changed the employment contract/conditions of its employees to their pecuniary disadvantage. There has been no re-grading exercise to their disadvantage.

There has been no demotion with respect to operational seniority. With the exception of former Alexandra physical education teacher Roger Broomes, there has been no dismissals.

If a political decision has been made by the state, where it has exercised its legal prerogative of initiating the transferral of teachers, then on what basis are the teachers not teaching but opting to hold daily meetings away from their classes? And, will these meetings be held indefinitely and when do they constitute a dereliction of duty?

Police officers are subject to station and departmental transfer. Firemen are subject to the same. Nurses, government accountants, clerical staff, et al, are subject to being moved within the space controlled and managed by the institution that signs their pay cheques.

They might not like it, it might be an inconvenience, their new location might now be too far from the school where they pick up their children, or one of many other permutations. But their monthly cheques and conditions of employment dictate that they comply.

Their rights have not been abused; their right to work has been maintained.So what makes the situation with our teachers different? Nothing.

The former science head at the Alexandra School, Amaida Greaves, as claimed by the BSTU, has a Memorandum of Understanding that apparently ties her to Alexandra for her eternity.

But MOU or no MOU, grounds or no grounds, other than perhaps preferring the St. Peter country air, the unique architecture of Alexandra, or wanting again to enjoy the school in the absence of Broomes, why would one resort to an MOU as the raison d’être not to practise the profession for which one were trained and has exercised for over two decades, at another school?

At the end of the day, one does not teach a school, one teaches children. And to the best of our knowledge, there are children in abundance to be found at Harrison College.

During the commencement address at Harvard University in 1978, Russian writer and 1970 Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn suggested that western thinking had become conservative to the point of believing that the world situation should stay as it is at any cost. There should be no changes.

He described it as a status quo’s “debilitating dream” and symptomatic of a society that had come to the end of its development.

Barbados is a conservative island but we do not believe we have come to the end of our development.

This is no Lilliput and the education of our children no laughing matter. Perhaps, Government might have unwittingly found a definitive, developmental solution in the example of Roger Broomes.

Saul’s decision to fall on his sword was of his own choice.

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