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Earning respect in public education

In January, public school teachers at C. H. Reeves Jr. High School threatened to strike because of unhealthy working conditions. The Ministry of Education gave assurances that every concern will be addressed.

At the end of July, the prime minister, accompanied by Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd, conducted a public relations tour of four government-operated schools undergoing significant repairs ahead of the September opening of schools. His delegation included Cabinet ministers and senior public officers. Representatives from the Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) and the media accompanied them.

At the time, Lloyd gave assurances that the schools will be ready for the September opening of the new school year. He said the selected contractors were “very seasoned, very experienced, very capable, very well resourced and are able to do the work, and get the work done in time”.

Since September, some public school teachers at C. H. Reeves have continued their complaints about unsanitary working conditions including the presence of “leaking water and mould, termite and rat infestations and non-functioning bathrooms”.

And, public school teachers at Carlton Francis Primary School staged protests demanding the removal of that school’s principal.

Neither protest involved all, or even a majority, of the teachers at either school. Classes continued at both institutions notwithstanding BUT’s claim that other members and additional unionists, not engaged in education, were in solidarity with the protestors.

BUT’s lawyer, Kahlil Parker, told the media that he and BUT President Belinda Wilson had been invited to tour C. H. Reeves on November 1, but the tour was canceled because of the presence of the media.

Parker promised court action as the Ministry of Education had shut protesting teachers out of both schools and stopped the payments of their salaries.

The principal at Carlton Francis has been transferred and letters of transfer for some of the protesting teachers were also prepared. The ministry appears to have ignored certain processes and procedures relating to the posting and transfer of teachers included in the BUT’s contract with the government.

The ministry’s response seems to us to have been an over-reach. We expect that the minister and the public service hierarchy at the Ministry of Education accept that settling scores or one-upmanship does not amount to good administration.

The BUT took its disputes to court.

On Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Bernard Turner ordered the squabbling educators to get back to the business of educating the nations’ children, and he ordered the government to restore all salaries withheld from protesting teachers who had in fact been prevented from returning to their classrooms by barricades put in place on the ministry’s instructions.

We expected that both the Ministry of Education and the BUT members would respond positively to the court’s order. Today’s newspaper reports on the matter place that in doubt.

In ruling that the protesting teachers should not suffer discipline for their actions, the court sent a strong message to those responsible for public education administration. In ordering teachers back to work, the court suggested that the correct place for teachers is in their classrooms.

We recently commented on the success of Finland’s schools where teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools and where teachers are accorded prestige, decent pay and a lot of responsibility.

Administrators in our government-operated school system might look to methods of education administration followed in countries where the brightest minds compete to become teachers and where students routinely rank amongst the highest in international comparative assessments.

Of course, prestige and decent pay must be earned by quality service. Teachers have an obligation to focus on ensuring that their students profit from their tutelage, gaining a new or improved skill, discovering a talent, or a broader knowledge and increased awareness of community and nation.

None of that will happen when teachers are in the streets.

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