The last few weeks of education-related matters have been filled with highs and lows. We have been graced by the images of children in their resplendent outfits celebrating African Awareness month, and cheered the athletes giving of their best in intra-school competitions, and NAPSAC and BSSAC events. On the other hand, there has been much publicity and protest action at schools around Barbados over poor environmental conditions and security issues.
Just like sports and African Awareness celebrations recur, it seems environmental problems and teacher concerns about health, job and physical security pop up ever so often as well. It suggests that these problems are ongoing, or have not been fully and satisfactorily dealt with, such as perennial complaints about cow itch at the Blackman and Gollop Primary and poor building and environmental conditions at the Milton Lynch Primary School. In fact, just yesterday teachers of All Saints Primary protested their poor working environment.
Perhaps what is needed is a more hands-on approach to the situation, which could help alleviate tensions and calm flaring tempers. Minister of Labour Colin Jordan has been at the forefront by touring various factories around the island, examining for himself manufacturing plants and workmanship produced. It is an approach that goes beyond the statistics and figures, and invites direct contact with those who work in the sector, their aspirations, frustrations and experiences. In similar fashion, the Education Minister, the Member of Parliament for the relevant areas, and their respective teams can also tour public school plants around the island, meet with teachers, janitorial staff, principals, parents teacher associations and even the students themselves. There is a wealth of knowledge that can be gleaned from going directly to the source and we imagine that seeing the Minister, Member of Parliament and their assistants in person would go a long way to relieving the frustration experienced on a daily basis by those in such poor conditions. In addition, it shows Government’s commitment to right the problems that, through no fault of their own, they have inherited and have been saddled with to fix.
We believe these tours or meetings should be undertaken as a matter of urgency; clearly there are pressing issues that teachers have with their work stations that, like other government departments, should be permanently fixed. We recall in the past that several government buildings had become so unfit that staff either walked off the job and were eventually moved to different locations. In other instances, such as the Pine location of the Licensing Authority office, hours were reduced so staff did not have to suffer the full indignities for too long. It behoves any government to ensure that the health and safety of their workers and young charges are met. It sets a good example for our children, who see in action the principles of public hygiene, and optimal welfare for their state.
We appreciate that the governing party has much to accomplish, including moving an educational system into the 21st century that can help all our children achieve their fullest potential. This target can be better met if teachers, staff and children are in institutions that are conducive to good learning and meet the necessary standard. The public schooling system is too important to our country to not get right. It is one that has historically played a critical role in the elevation and development of ordinary Barbadians, many of whom have done credit to our nation. It is a system that must succeed, especially as we are expanding the service to include more of our Caribbean brothers and sisters, as we have recently learnt. Therefore we must seek to alleviate and eradicate ongoing environmental problems being experienced around our public schools.