When the silence is not golden
Defiant action is gaining momentum in the quiet, rural parish of St John, as the future of one of its historic landmarks languishes in doubt.
The 219-year old Society Primary School, which was bequeathed to the island by Christopher Codrington, along with Codrington College and The Lodge School, was closed by the Ministry of Education at the end of the last school term.
A shocking decision, to say the least, if we are to believe teachers, students and parents who claim they were not consulted on the move but merely informed at a meeting with the officials of the Ministry of Education back in June.
Since then, they’ve been galvanised into action by attorney-at-law and social activist David Comissiong to save the school; and it’s been hard to ignore their passionate demand.
“Closure is not an option,” they insist.
Their cry has been strongly endorsed by historian Senator Professor Emeritus Dr Henry Fraser, along with noted educator and author Dr Dan Carter.
Mr Comissiong argues that, based on the historic value of the school alone, the decision was not properly thought out and the country would be shooting itself in the foot.
“If Society Primary is closed, what we have done is destroyed one of the most important historical institutions not only in Barbados, but in the entire Caribbean, because we are talking about an institution that is 219 years old, an institution that has the distinction of being the first educational institution in Barbados established to educate the enslaved black children of our ancestors.”
In stressing the significance of Society Primary, he noted that the school could easily be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s a view strongly supported by Professor Fraser who contends the history of the school was not considered. He further argues that the decision is wrong on two other grounds.
Questioning reports that Society Primary would be amalgamated with St John’s Primary, he warns that this will be “infinitely more expensive” than repairing Society. Secondly, Fraser insists communities are precious and must be preserved, and children should not have to travel far distances to attend school.
“Barbadian children have to travel all across the country to attend secondary school; it should not be necessary to travel all across St John to attend primary school. Small children who often have to walk should be able to attend school in their own village or district,” he argues.
Yet, one could assume these cries have not yet reached the ears of the usually loquacious Minister of Education Ronald Jones, who has been deafeningly silent.
In fact, pressed by Barbados TODAY to have his say on the matter, Mr Jones would only offer a terse “no comment”.
Since that puzzling response, concerns have been mounting and have reached the level of a petition which has so far attracted more than 500 signatures to pressure the minister to break his silence and instruct that the school be reopened in another two months.
Still that has not been enough to evoke a response from Mr Jones, who usually needs no provocation.
This is definitely a case where silence is not golden, and the Minister of Education must be present to explain what’s behind the decision to close the school, as well as to listen to the proposals for keeping it open.
Tell us, Mr Jones, was the history of the institution considered when the decision was made? And what about the impact on students who will be affected? What arrangements have been made to facilitate their smooth entry into another educational institution if the ministry proceeds with this questionable move?
Furthermore, Minister, since you persistently urge that every effort must be made to ensure the nation’s children receive the best in classrooms across Barbados, you must now be prepared to ensure that the students at Society Primary receive the same by safeguarding this historic part of our educational landscape.