Neither Up Nor Down: The 'Ministry' of Education in Barbados
by George Jackman [firstname.lastname@example.org]
|For several decades now - and every year without fail - we have had the same rehash season of Common Entrance arguments, opinions and red herrings (along with occasional gems of analysis and ideas). Each year the season ends with the announcement of scholarship and exhibition results and the same arguments and opinions. Truth be said, every argument and opinion seems to have a measure of sense and possibility. Of late, pronouncements about school buildings, changes in policies and new initiatives are coming at us with the regularity of paydays and, like paychecks in a recession, we still don't see the way forward. Opinions, ideas, arguments seem to get us halfway there. So who should we blame if, in 2011, our education system seems to be neither up nor down … should the finger be pointed at the Ministry of Education, the media, our "educated" listeners and commentators, none of these, all of the above? Does the Barbados of Edutech and "11.11.11 ON" really have a 'ministry' (i.e. well-defined mission) of education?
In an article entitled "A Radical Preamble To A Future Barbadian Social Model", Hal Austin concludes that "Despite the rhetoric, there is no Caribbean social model, no Barbadian social model, nor even a village social model. The major problem with ruling elite in micro-states is that they consider access to information as a weapon of authority and this is rooted in the vulgar cliché that knowledge is power. It is, in an atomised, dysfunctional, selfish way. A progressive society must share knowledge, lift all its people together, sing from the same song sheet. That is the challenge." Is Mr. Austin's claim that there is a problem with accessing and sharing information on the barbadian society/education system justified? The starting point for easily accessible, open information on all matters concerning the Barbadian educational system should be the Ministry of Education .
The contention of this article is that, given the various internet-based technologies at its disposal such as Edutech and "11.11.11 ON", the Ministry of Education continues to fail in its mission/ministry of educating Barbados. A brief examination of its increasingly important tool of communication (i.e. its web site ) leaves the reader with no more than basic information. Missing is almost everything that informs, analyses, evaluates and gives an understanding of the Ministry's system, the rationality of decision-making and the success or failure of its various initiatives. Listed below are a selection of papers/reports which are integral to the Ministry of Education's policies. Are our stakeholders (educated listeners, commentators, education officers and teachers) aware of the following studies? Better yet, have they actually read these documents? Are these documents (listed below) open and accessible 24/7?
In the article "Another Meaningless Education Report From NACE" (submitted by "Bush Tea" and posted on June 23, 2010), we read the following submission by "Anonymous":
"One thing that the NACE report shows is the dearth of mathematical modeling skills in Barbadian researchers and policy makers. The claim that zoning will reduce traffic congestion can be tested using Geographic Information systems along with well established traffic models that transport engineers use when planning transportation system development. It is distressing that in 2010 much speculation and debate about education and many other fields go on without any testing by any models and other numerical approaches. Properly constructed models often help to reveal strengths and weaknesses in proposals and reduce risk of failure."
While Bush Tea's article is not about mathematical modelling per se, it is about the "much speculation and debate about education", about the absence of publicly available, up-to-date information based on relevant studies, analyses and assessments. It is important that research data be made available - on a 24/7 basis - in order to better define and redefine the Barbadian educational system.
In all fairness, the Ministry of Education's web site does provide some answers to a number of important questions. The following are examples :-
QUESTION: "Is the Common Entrance (CE) an isolated activity or does it form part of a system?"
Response on website: "The Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development (MEHR) is the Government agency responsible for the formulation of educational and human resource development policies and for the administration and regulation of education and human resource development programmes. The education system caters to approximately 59 500 students annually - 28 000 at the primary level 22 000 at the secondary level and 11,459+ at tertiary level including those enrolled at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill campus. Within the education system there are presently 71 public primary schools, 1 infant school, 4 public nursery schools, 23 public secondary schools, 7 assisted private secondary schools, 2 assisted special schools, 1 public senior school, 20 registered private schools, 3 tertiary-level institutions (namely UWI Cave Hill, Barbados Community College - BCC and Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic - SJPP), 1 teachers' training institution and 1 central administrative agency. In addition, there are 3 departments, namely Media Resource Department, School Meals Department, and the Education Project Implementation Unit. "
QUESTION: "Is the CE used solely to allocate students to secondary schools or is it used solely to assess whether or not students of a certain age range have grasped certain bits of knowledge, skills and understandings?"
Response on website: "Children who are eleven years old but under twelve (12) years old at September 1st in the year of the examination are required to write the examination as a means of allocation to secondary school."
QUESTION: "Are other tests administered earlier in the primary years? Are they used for transfer to the secondary stage?"
Response: "The Criterion - Referenced test is designed to determine the extent to which a student can effectively perform a prescribed set of tasks. The Criterion -Referenced test interpretation permits us to describe a student's test performance without referring to the performance of other students. Criterion - Referenced tests are administered in English Language and Mathematics to students in Infants B and Class 2 of the primary schools."
QUESTION: "What is the of continuous assessment and reading level tests?"
Response: "This is a continuous incremental system of measuring the knowledge, skills and attitudes that students have gained from pursuing the primary school curriculum, over a period of time rather than relying on a one shot examination as we presently do.' It has been proposed that the continuous assessment scores should be used in conjunction with the score gained in the BSSEE to allocate students to secondary schools. Reading level tests are scheduled to be administered in class 1 in our primary schools during the period September to November. " Reading level tests are scheduled to be administered in class 1 in our primary schools during the period September to November.
QUESTION: "After the Common Entrance, is the secondary curriculum a case of 'one size fits all'? "
Response: "The major function of secondary schools is to ensure that:
The above are some basic questions and answers. Information dealing with weightier matters is totally lacking. Indeed, there are times when the Ministry's pronouncements are somewhat bizarre, the following is an example:-
'The Planning, Research & International Relations Unit processes and facilitates requests for information from local educational institutions, external educational institutions, external international institutions and agencies and the general public. Additionally, members of the public and researchers from various institutions can access information stored in the department."
Statements such as the above have been copied onto the [Ministry's] website from a pre-independence document! No wonder 'Bush Tea' felt obliged to respond in a blog (posted on July 10):
"A REAL minister of Education would be able to articulate for Bajans on Friday, clear answers to a number of BASIC questions, like:
Whether we agree with Bush Tea's questions or not, one has to admit that the "Resource Library" section (found at the bottom of the Ministry's home page) is a deliberate 'disrobing in callous disregard' for the Barbadian taxpayer. Every able-bodied reader and researcher should let his/her dissatisfaction be known by visiting the Ministry's comments page and registering his/her concerns!
Click here to read the complete Press Release re Alexandra Teacher Transfers. Following are some excerpts from the latest BSTU Press Release re the transfer of teachers to and from the Alexandra School:
RESOLUTIONS ADOPTED AT EMERGENCY GENERAL MEETINGThe BSTU at its Emergency General Meeting on 12th December, 2011 passed the following resolutions..." Read more...
Press Release: Background to the Current Impasse with CXC and the Alexandra School
CXC: The Union has not been informed as to whether the Ministry has done anything to correct the wrong suffered by the students at the Foundation School ... the Union will be forced to consider the avenues available to it to get this matter addressed if the Registrar does not agree to a meeting with us.... Read more...
The Barbados Secondary Teachers' Union has instructed (not ordered) its members of staff at the Alexandra School to resume teaching duties with immediate effect.
The Union will have written all the agents of the employer superior to the Principal advising them of this decision and indicating a stated expectation that all those agents will act so as to ensure there is no victimization, recrimination or other form of work place abuse, so that the teachers can perform their professional obligations in an environment conducive to teaching and learning. The Union's letter also cautions that if there are any lapses in the practices required by the Government, as the model employer in labour management relations, then these will be met by an appropriate response.
The Union wishes to make it abundantly clear, given its professional and trade union obligations, that its decision has been made entirely in the context of all that is implicit in the public announcement by the Prime Minister to the setting up of a Commission of Enquiry into all matters at the Alexandra School. Most important of these is the expectation, in keeping with what has been best practice and following our discussion, that the Principal of that institution will be sent on leave with full pay when the warrant establishing said Commission is issued. The union shall expect therefore that the agents of the employer will prepare in advance for this. We have made this decision to return, notwithstanding the absence of certain specific and relevant details in relation to a time-frame, from a position of trust in the office of the Prime Minister and with the assurance that he will act in the best interest of that statement of policy and of this country. The resumption of work is therefore being undertaken by this trade union, yet gain, as an act of good faith in the negotiating exercise.
The Union's membership at Alexandra is conscious of its professional commitments to students, their parents and to the school itself, a fact which was publicly recognized, on more than one occasion, by the Prime Minister. This, along with a known increase of pressure on both students and parents alike in this examination term, has also played a major role in our decision. The industrial action taken by the Union was not intended to, in anyway disadvantage the school, but to bring sobriety and sanity out of the existing irreparably fractured situation that causes pain and suffering to those there. The Union abhors the time which has been permitted to elapse before any definitive attempt has been made to address the serious problems at the school. We are fully satisfied that senior public officers and successive Public Service Commissions, responsible individually and collectively in law for the administration of employment practices at the Alexandra School, including the industrial relations aspect, have for years allowed an untenable situation first to develop and then to fester. This has occurred under successive political administrations. Nothing that the Union has done has been driven by party-political politics and we have no intention of being drawn into any party political debate and divide. The Union offers the assurance that it proposes to cooperate fully with the process of enquiry and reposes confidence in that process. We fully expect that Commission both to vindicate the teachers and to produce recommendations for the Cabinet which we expect to be enacted with the priority that has previously NOT been given to the importance of the teaching/learning environment that the teachers there have always known should exist.
Moreover, as expected in such matters the Union shall respect the circumstances and shall seek to keep out of the limelight on that aspect of the issue. We are expecting that similar instruction will be given to the Principal by his employers. The members of the BSTU have, without prejudice, resumed work today, and we hereby clarify that some of our members had been released, since last week, to undertake CXC oral examinations and other duties.
Regrettably, when we did this earlier it did NOT mean that the Principal would discontinue acts of discrimination, mismanagement and workplace abuse. The teachers will however continue to work professionally while awaiting the expeditious establishment of the Commission of Inquiry. In these specific circumstances, the Prime Minister has publicly recognized the difficult environment in which they work and has validated their several complaints about it. The Union is therefore expecting that the PM will, with haste, provide substance to the generalities of his policy statement to this Union and the nation.
Whereas the maintaining of dialogue is a fundamental obligation of parties involved in any professional relationship; and
Whereas the Barbados Secondary Teachers' Union has had a productive working relationship with the Caribbean Examinations Council that has been mutually beneficial; and Whereas teachers, by virtue of their being an integral part of the entire examination process, have been able to contribute since its inception to the development of CXC as an examination body; and
Whereas the continued success of CXC remains entirely dependent upon the current levels of goodwill and collaboration of teachers throughout the Caribbean,
Be it resolved that the Barbados Secondary Teachers' Union condemns the Registrar of CXC, Dr. Didacus Jules, for his failure to accede to the Union's reasonable request for a meeting to:
Whereas it is a fundamental provision within the Code of Professional Conduct in the teaching profession that no teacher should censure or criticise the work of another teacher in the presence and hearing of students; and
Whereas the Principal of the Alexandra School, acting as an agent of the employer, used his official address at the school's Speech Day on 2nd December, 2011 to criticise a senior member of the teaching staff of that school and knowingly to do so before students; and
Whereas the Principal of the Alexandra School, acting as an agent of the employer, also uttered remarks which must reasonably be construed as being hostile and inflammatory and deliberately directed at the Barbados Secondary Teachers' Union; and
Whereas the Government, as employer, has committed itself to a policy of maintaining a harmonious industrial relations environment and has enjoined public officers under Protocol VI to conduct themselves in accordance with best practices expected of Government as the model employer, and as public officers under the Public Service Act to implement the policies and decisions of the Government; and
Whereas this Union has already drawn the attention of the Government, as employer, to the previous failures of the Principal of the Alexandra School to observe best practice in labour management relations; and
Whereasthis Union has made the Government, as employer, aware of the several and continuing breaches by the Principal of Alexandra School of the good administration expected in the Public Service of Barbados; and
Whereas there is precedent for the remedying in an appropriate manner of unacceptable labour management relations in a public secondary school,
Be it resolved that this Union calls upon the Government, as employer, to use the appropriate measures at its disposal to remedy the untenable labour management relations at the Alexandra School, and to do so without further delay in the interest of the teaching and learning environment at the Alexandra School, and to provide, in accordance with the Public Service Act, a work place that maintains the highest ethical standards, that is free from discrimination and which promotes the fair treatment of public officers.
Be it resolved, given the increasing and changing involvement of teachers in the examination process of CXC with all its attendant expectations, that a committee be set up to advise the Executive of the Union by 31st March, 2012 on:
Be it resolved that this Union withdraws labour as from the start of the second term of the academic year 2011 - 2012 at the Alexandra School if there is an insufficiency of response to satisfy the resolution passed at today's Emergency Meeting.
Be it further resolved that this Union gives appropriate consideration to an extension of the withdrawal of labour to vindicate its position.
"Tonight I have the very difficult task of paying tribute to Mr. Patrick Frost and the work that he has done for our BSTU over the last 4 decades.
Yes, it is a difficult task because how do you say "Thank you" to Patrick Frost? Verily, it is not possible to express in full our gratitude that brings us here tonight, either as members of our Union, or as members of the wider teaching fraternity, or as persons involved in Education or Industrial relations at any level.
There are no encomiums that can do justice to the quality and quantity of work that this gentleman has done in his 37 years of association with this Union, the last 26 of which he spent as General-Secretary of the BSTU. His service at that level -- and later at the level of CTUSAB -- has been of immeasurable benefit not only to those associated with education in Barbados, but to the wider society as well.
If we had to use a phrase to describe his personal and Industrial Relations operational style during this time frame, then it would be one that he himself often used to explain the position of the Union when addressing many of the issues that confronted us … for Patrick, it was always important to take and hold “the moral high ground”. This phrase epitomises his approach and philosophy to all that he does and placed him beyond reproach in all his dealings. Such strength of character, coupled with an intellect matched by few in this country, has distinguished him as a Trade Unionist par excellence.
Clarity, profundity, impartiality, alacrity, a rapier wit, a brilliant strategist... these are just some of the descriptive terms that come to mind when one thinks of the intellect that is Patrick Frost.
I have heard expressions of admiration from persons of all walks of life regarding this gentleman's brain power, competence and incisiveness of language... from the late Prime Minister Tom Adams who said of him: “Bright fellow, like to meet him around a negotiation table”, then there's our present Prime Minister who described him as “extremely competent and one of the good things coming out of St. John” and let's not forget the current Minister of Labour's observation that Patrick is one of the few people that he knows who can read and understand the law for fun when many qualified in the area can’t do it for survival.
But I state the obvious, one only has to hear him speak for a short while to recognise and appreciate Patrick's extraordinary gifts and talents. I remember being in the crowds during the sensitisation mass-meetings that preceded the 1991 country–wide strike, hearing people commenting on his eloquence … two comments in particular remain in my mind … there was one man who had been quite boisterous all along, saying to his partners: "Wunna hush now Patrick Frost beginning to talk... At another meeting, which turned out to be the largest public, peaceful demonstration ever in this country, I heard the comment “Yuh see dat white man dey, I too LOVE to hear he talk!" ...and talk Mr. Frost certainly did, exhorting those gathered to commit themselves to the cause.
Patrick made full use of these personal talents to bring the BSTU from the position of being an organisation with such meagre documentation that he found himself “inheriting three cardboard boxes which contained all the Union’s files and the few cockroaches that went with them” to leaving it as institution with a new Constitution (drafted by himself) and a Union recognised as competent, effective, respected and the envy of some organisations much larger than ourselves. We owe it, as a tribute to him, and to the others who have worked with him, to support and sustain what they have fought so hard to create and establish.
Patrick’s worth and selfless labour in the Trade Union movement was a constant. Under his direction teachers, to quote Bernadine Payne “felt safe with Patrick there.” They felt secure, protected in the knowledge that he there to champion their cause. He was at the forefront of negotiating many issues with government from which teachers and Education policy and practice alike have benefited. They are too numerous to list but some of which he might be most proud include:
But Patrick’s measure of success came from daring and fearlessness as well as a desire to champion the cause of his constituents. He was unafraid to challenge anyone, at any level, in the pursuit of right. He coupled this with extensive preparation and strategic thought and depended heavily on the input from his supportive and selfless wife. In preparing a case for his members he read, spoke with and garnered information from every available source, he countered every counter-argument in his mind until satisfied that he was well–prepared “to do battle” and win for his members.
...allow me to digress here for a moment and to thank Margot, Patrick’s wife for sharing her husband with the BSTU for the last 37 years … We are cognisant of and acknowledge your generosity and we thank you profoundly for it. You have been supportive of the BSTU generally, working hard as a member yourself, willingly offering advice and counsel both to Patrick on our behalf, and to any of us with whom you came into contact. You have always been gracious when perhaps you had the right to be peeved at the numerous intrusions into your family life that would have occurred over the years …and many of us have been lucky to share the warm hospitality of your home. Truly, next to every great man there is indeed a great woman.
In 1995 Patrick was elected as the first General Secretary of CTUSAB and served in that capacity until 2000 when he was elected as the first Vice President. As an officer of this organisation, he was involved in the drafting of the various Protocols, particularly Protocols 3, 4 and 5. and his work at the level of CTUSAB brought further national recognition and respect of the excellent resources within the BSTU. Until this day he has served on the Subcommittee of the Social Partners from its inception in 1995.
Tonight, you might have noticed that I have switched tenses in speaking of Patrick, alternating between the past and the present .. and that is simply because, though retired in theory, Patrick continues to function in practice … that level of skill, intellect, institutional knowledge and memory can never be dismissed or left to lie idle … and that he continues to give of his time willingly and competently, after “retirement”, bespeaks the measure of the man.
Patrick was and still remains the Heart and Soul of the BSTU we thank him for his sacrifice of time, self, family. We thank him for the proud, respected status and legacy that he has left us as a Union; we thank him for the sense of safety and support that he continues to provide.
His invaluable contribution and commitment to Industrial Relations in Barbados was recognised with his award of the Silver Crown of Merit in The Independence Honours of 1998. The BSTU intends to “go for the GOLD” in relation to you Patrick and we will not stop until we achieve that."
The BSTU hosted another successful Teachers’ Professional Day on October 19th, 2007. There were over 80 participants in attendance and this year a special effort was made to have the active input of our retired members who were issued a special invitation to attend the event. They all reported their appreciation for being invited and participated actively in the day’s proceedings. The topics this year were:
1. A Brief History of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union and its Contribution to the Development of Education and the Teaching Profession in Barbados
This session was meant to sensitise and educate members about the many and varied contributions of our illustrious Union to improve educational policy and practice and to enhance the status of teachers in Barbados. Panelists were Mrs. Grace Thompson, Mr. Phil Perry and Mr. Patrick Frost
2. The Rights and Responsibilities of Teachers
Participants in this session focussed on the responsibilities of teachers in their work environments while also taking cognizance of their rights as outlined both in the Law and through custom and practice. The panelists on this occasion were Mr. Elsworth Young and Mr. Patrick Frost. We are especially indebted to Mr. Young who we consider to be an honorary member of our Union because of his willingness to always come and give us the benefit of his time, knowledge and opinions.
The Safety and Health Act (SHAW, 2005) and its Implications for the School Environment
All of the topics addressed generated much discussion and the general consensus was that the day was a highly informative and valuable one and suggestions were made by some that the Union needed to approach the Ministry of Education for more than one opportunity per year for addressing professional issues like these which affect teachers at the macro-level. The atmosphere of camaraderie was at its usual high level but the presence of our retired members added a special element to the total ambience of the day’s proceedings. We look forward to an even bigger event next year!
The Teachers' Professional Day (TPD) activity was the BSTU's main focus during Education Month. The Union held a seminar at Solidarity House on 20th November, 2006 for all interested members and records that over 60 persons were in attendance. The organising committee, in an attempt to address professional issues affecting teachers on a macro level, chose topics for the seminar which included:
The panelists for these sessions were Hon. Rawle Eastmond M.P., Minister of Labour and the Civil Service, Mr. Patrick Frost, Mrs. Marguerite Cummins-Williams and officials from the Caribbean Examinations Council. The sessions were extremely interactive, generating much interest and discussion.
To briefly summarise the pertinent points of the discussions:
The general feedback throughout the day was very positive and clearly demonstrated the need for all teachers across the system to use the opportunity of a day such as this to focus on issues that affect them professionally, at the macro-level. The fact must never be forgotten that Teachers' Professional Day is a BSTU initiative, fought for by BSTU stalwarts for many years before it was granted by the then Government in 1985. It is a day that we must fight to keep as a Union day to be used in a positive way that the Union determines. Read the Union's response to the Chief Education Officer's reaction to certain events which occurred during last year's TPD here.
John Cumberbatch Memorial Lecture
The BSTU continued its support of the hosting of this annual lecture during Education Month and again partnered with the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Ministry of Education to hold the event. The theme focused on CSME and the implications for Teacher Training and Education in the Caribbean . This excellent lecture was delivered by Professor Errol Miller on 25th October, 2006 at Almond Bay Conference Centre and he held the very large audience captivated for the entirety of the presentation. Brief remarks were made by the Hon. Cynthia Forde, Minister of State in the Ministry of Education and the President of the Barbados Union of Teachers. The vote of thanks was delivered by the President of the BSTU. See the link below for the full text of Professor Miller's speech.
During 2006 the Barbados Secondary Teachers' Union began the formal recognition and celebration of its 60th anniversary, a celebration that is projected to continue into 2007. Two events were planned. These were, a Church Service which was held at the St. Cyprians Anglican Church followed by a breakfast at Headquarters, and a Friday Night Lime.
The Church service was held on 19th November, 2006 and conducted by Cannon Burke who preached a rousing sermon well suited to the occasion since so much of the content of that sermon was not only directed to the activities of the Union in general but bore especial significance to the events surrounding the "Alexandra Impasse" which were at that time unfolding.
The President also addressed the congregation providing a brief history of the Union and outlining its major achievements and contributions to Education in Barbados during the last 60 years. She also grasped the opportunity to rally persons to the cause as it related to the on-going issue at the Alexandra School.
The service was quite well attended by the members of the Union who were gracioulsy joined by Cannon Burke and his family and some members of the congregation of St. Cyprians' in a light breakfast at the headquarters of the Union.
© The Barbados Secondary Teachers' Union 2007
All Rights Reserved.