Heavy cross of Education Minister Jones

Sometimes, during the normal course of human relationships with their usual ups and downs, an unfortunate situation can arise that is commonly described as the point of no return.

Put simply, it means the relationship has suffered irreparable damage in terms of loss of trust, respect and confidence. As a result, the likelihood of salvaging what little that remains seems an impossible undertaking. A parting of the ways therefore seems the only realistic option.

It seems the noticeably rocky relationship between this island’s teachers and Minister of Education Ronald Jones has reached this point. It prompted a call last Friday from the president of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), Mr Pedro Shepherd, for Mr Jones to step down.

“I am suggesting that if the minister is tired of the particular ministry, then he can simply write to the Prime Minister and ask him to relieve him of the burden of the Ministry of Education,” Shepherd said after a meeting with teachers, which had been prompted by Mr Jones’ refusal to meet with them last Thursday.

The BUT and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) have been at loggerheads with the leadership of the Ministry of Education over various issues during the last few years. Their central grievance relates to what they consider to be an unsatisfactory level of dialogue with the ministry.

The teachers’ struggle with Mr Jones attracted some heavyweight support from the Barbados Workers’ Union on May Day. General secretary Toni Moore suggested his refusal to meet with the BUT on an urgent issue merited his defeat at the next general election.

The list of teachers’ issues, which the unions are seeking to resolve, include permanent appointments for teachers who have been in temporary positions for several years, escalating student indiscipline and violence, and compensation for teachers marking School-Based Assessments (SBAs), which are an integral part of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams; additionally, environmental problems at some schools, putting the health of teachers and students at risk.

Mr Jones, who expressed surprise over the call for him to go, said he had met the unions only recently. Is there more in the mortar than the pestle? Could it be that teachers’ expectations in relation to Mr Jones were considerably higher, seeing that he could be viewed as one of their own, being a former BUT president himself?

Another teachers’ complaint against the minister is what they consider his tendency to beat them up in public through harsh criticism of their performance. Whatever the underlying source of the problem, it seems the relationship between Mr Jones and teachers have reached the point of no return.

This stage never develops overnight. It is usually the culmination of a steady but gradual deterioration in the relationship over time. As a result, intense feelings of frustration, disenchantment, even despair can develop where one side feels aggrieved the other has taken it for granted

It has not been smooth sailing for Mr Jones in his eight years at the helm of this important ministry. He has had to contend with various complex issues, some of which defy an easy solution; but, in our Westminster system of government, he must be cognizant of the tradition where the buck always stops with the minister whether he or she is directly responsible or not.

The perception of public education today, under Mr Jones’ watch, is that of a sector in crisis and falling apart. Just as some commentators suggest Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is the worst Prime Minister Barbados has had so far, they attribute the same state as Minister of Education to Mr Jones. Perception, though not necessarily always based on fact, is nevertheless the reality
for persons holding such views.

Not only Education, but several other portfolios of Government could benefit from a new minister at the helm. The psychological effect of a change of leadership is that introducing a new personality with a different style and approach presents a welcome opportunity for a new beginning, which serves to lift the spirits of just about everyone involved.

Mr Stuart, it seems, however, does not believe in occasional Cabinet reshuffles or changing ministers, unlike his predecessors and prime ministers elsewhere around the world. It is likely to be a futile exercise, therefore, suggesting to him that Barbados could do with a Cabinet reshuffle at this stage. The suggestion may very well fall on deaf ears.

What we will not shy away from saying, though, is that the welfare of the country must take precedence at all times over any single individual, or other considerations. Promoting and encouraging what is best for Barbados remains our sole motivation and overriding interest.

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