EDITORIAL: Rational approach needed


IT is concerning that once more a school matter is fodder for public consumption. The recent alleged violence by a student against a teacher in a secondary school has resulted yet again in a tense stalemate between the teachers’ unions and the Ministry of Education, with the unions standing firm by their decision that the student in question should be expelled. Far too often, school disputes have been subject to public discussion and, as a final measure in the case of Alexandra, required a Commission of Inquiry to solve. That is gravely unfortunate. It is time for a more level-headed approach to educational disputes. In that regard, it is prudent to institute a tribunal to deal with these problems to ensure justice is served for all involved.
The last few years have seen a rise in tensions among educators and their representatives and government officials over incidents at schools. Disturbingly, this trend of a public war of words often results in the reputations of teachers, children and schools being tarnished due to the very open nature of the spats, especially when the average citizen weighs in on social media, sometimes too harshly. Unfortunately, other sections of the media add fuel to the fire by reporting sensitive information that is best left out of the public domain, and which further inflames tensions.
At this stage, the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) has issued an ultimatum for Minister of Education, Ronald Jones, to meet with its members by tomorrow, otherwise – in the words of BUT President Pedro Shepherd – “teachers are prepared not to go into the classroom on Friday, April 29... (and) are prepared to stay home until the Minister meets with us”. Is this the right approach? When one considers that the Barbados Secondary School Entrance Examination is on May 3 and the Caribbean Examination Council exams continue in May, it makes one wonder how this approach by teachers serves their interests. Are they doing the best for their charges? Will it help thousands of nervous children preparing to undergo (in some cases) life-altering examinations? 
We would also remind other players in the news industry that media outlets set the tone and opinion in society, and our duty is to present the truth, unvarnished, without sensationalism, and with sensitivity given the ages and professions of some involved. It is to no one’s advantage to see teachers and children tried in a court of public opinion – especially on a small island like ours – when all facts have not yet come out.
There should be zero tolerance to violence against students and teachers in institutions of learning. Perhaps, however, there needs to be a broader agreement on the form that due process should take, without ultimatums and blame games. The Commission of Inquiry into the Alexandra School matter can act as a guide, where a tribunal can be formed to deal with matters of this nature. We envision the tribunal to be made up of eminent retired educators or headteachers, retired members of the teachers’ unions and even the clergy, who can form a body to hear cases where a higher resolution is needed. This way, the facts of the case can be deliberated without public hyperbole and rhetoric.
Whatever form the resolution takes, state officials, educators and union representatives can do better. Our children are watching; they deserve better.

Barbados Advocate

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