Redman: Ministry too slow to act on student indiscipline

Teachers’ advocate Mary Redman is accusing the Ministry of Education of dragging its feet on the issue of student violence and allowing the situation to get out of hand.

Redman pointed to an incident yesterday in which a fourth form student at Parkinson Memorial School smashed the window of a teacher’s car.

The student appeared in court today and was remanded to the Government Industrial School until May 10, when he will appear before the Juvenile Court. He is charged with damaging the car “without lawful excuse”, as well as “intending to damage the property or being reckless as to whether such property would be damaged”.

Redman, the president of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), told Barbados TODAY her union’s repeated appeals to the ministry for a comprehensive look at failing discipline in the schools had fallen on deaf ears.

“Over a year ago at our last quarterly meeting, violence in schools was one of our agenda items and at that meeting the Chief [Education Officer Karen Best] told us, ‘let us not discuss it here’ because she wants to have a series of meetings to look at this problem, indicating that the ministry had realized the seriousness of the problem. Over a year has past, not one meeting has been held,” Redman lamented.

“Since then there have been several student-on-student incidents recorded on cell phones and put on social media; there have been incidents of student-on-teacher violence and still that did not prod a reaction from the ministry to hold the meetings so that we could engage in the type of conversation needed to solve [the problem],” she added.

The trade unionist stressed that the situation would not be solved solely by theoretical applications, but rather through consultation with teachers who experience life in the classroom daily.

“I don’t believe that it is a problem that the ministry alone could come up with all of the answers because they can only provide recommendations from a theoretical standpoint; they are not in the classroom. They need to react with the unions and teachers and the principals’ unions and let us have a serious look in a combined way to determine how we can attack this problem. We cannot go the way of Jamaica or Trinidad, theirs are examples that we have to learn from and not follow,” Redman insisted.

The BSTU president also accused the ministry of forcing teachers to adopt foreign methods of controlling the classrooms, which have not worked in either the foreign jurisdiction or in Barbadian schools.

“These so called new initiatives  . . . have not worked in the societies in which they originated and they are looking to impose them on us and at the same time provide no alternatives or resources that you would need implement them. We can’t even get the guidance counsellors in the primary schools, [whereas] in the secondary school level the guidance counsellors are overwhelmed. In schools with 1,100 children we need to have more than one guidance counsellor. The last time I checked there was only one clinical psychologist at the Ministry of Education to serve all the schools,” Redman stressed.

Violence in schools has been a vexing issue for teachers, who have been complaining since January 2015 that it was getting out of hand.

It was one of the key concerns of teachers, whose relationship with the Ronald Jones-led Ministry of Education broke down last year.

Jones announced in April last year that the ministry would establish a broad-based committee “within a week” to investigate violence in schools to determine what “was happening within the school and the external factors that influenced this behaviour”.

More than a year later there has been no official word on the committee.

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