Righting the wrongs in our education sector

The first term of the school year wrapped up today and teachers and students alike are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief as they look forward to the three-week Christmas break and a brand new year.

We hope all had a successful and productive 14 weeks in the classroom.

Where there were achievements, these should be fittingly celebrated, and where there were disappointments and setbacks, there must be a fresh resolve to improve in 2017.

In this vein, we hope the approaching New Year will invigorate the Ministry of Education, the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU), the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and parents to join forces to fix lingering problems in the system and turn a new page in their relations to ensure the nation’s children get nothing but the best.

At the top of any agenda to right the wrongs of 2016 must be the vexing environmental issues at Combermere. While other students had 14 weeks of learning, those who attend the Waterford, St Michael learning institution had their education interrupted for four to five weeks because of the environmental problems.

Tuesday’s march to the Ministry of Education by worried parents to highlight the plight of their children was an appropriate reminder that this problem has been festering for far too long.

It would be hard to give the Ministry of Education a passing grade for its handling of the matter. Despite repeated assurances from Minister Ronald Jones that his ministry was on top of the situation, no solution has been forthcoming and we are no wiser as to the cause of the problem or when it will be resolved.

It is unacceptable that hundreds of children were forced to miss out on critical instruction since the school closed in mid- November and there is still no clear announcement on when classes will resume, despite reports quoting Jones as saying that the school will be back in business in January.

It is puzzling why this matter has taken such a long time to settle when there have been multiple studies and investigations into the problem at the school.

The public is still to hear the findings of the first probe, even as it anxiously awaits the report on this latest round of investigations.

Given the short holiday before school resumes, the Ministry of Education should endeavour to keep parents, teachers and staff fully informed of the progress of the study, and moreso have a Plan B in place to ensure Combermere students can get back to the business of learning.

Parents and the public are no doubt anxious to hear what action will be taken to ensure the problem is not repeated.

Another unresolved problem is the controversial issue of School Based Assessments (SBAs).

The BSTU has continued to stick to its long running position that teachers will not be correcting SBAs – part of the Caribbean Examination Council’s syllabus – unless they are compensated.

The Ministry of Education, acting on advice from the Solicitor General, has maintained that the SBAs form part of the teachers’ duties.

Both sides have refused to budge from their position on the matter and the students have been the losers.

Only this week, the parents of fourth form Combermere students reported that their charges were marked “ungraded” for some of their Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) SBA projects.

Pray tell, how will this problem be corrected?

We agree with parents that it would be unfair to expect students to do over projects or resit exams on which they would have spent considerable time and energy.

Surely this matter should drive the Ministry of Education and the BSTU back to the negotiating table – not to shout at each other, but to respectfully listen to each other’s position and come to a reasonable decision that would not be detrimental to students. The pupils have suffered enough.

By now it should be clear that 2017 cannot be business as usual in the all-important business of education.

It is incumbent on education authorities and the unions to recommit to settling their differences and strengthening their partnership to achieve the single goal of helping our children to reach their fullest potential in a safe and sound environment.

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