Labour

Schools ‘at an all-time low’

  • Suspended learning: the grounds of Victor Scott Primary were deserted as all public school teachers staged a sick-out yesterday and students returned home (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Industrial action: Diallo Rabain, the embattled Minister of Education (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda’s public school system is past fixing, the president of a primary school parent-teacher association warned yesterday.

Danielle Riviere, the president of the West Pembroke Primary School Parent Teacher Association, said that it was time that the island admitted “that the education system is broken”.

She added: “It’s time to change the conversation from how to fix it to how to replace it.”

Ms Riviere was speaking after a mass sick-out yesterday by teachers, who are expected to return to classrooms today.

Commissioner of Education Kalmar Richards said last night that Ministry and Department of Education leaders would meet with Bermuda Union of Teachers representatives today, under the guidance of a Labour Relations Officer.

Ms Richards said: “We remain optimistic that we can resolve the issues at hand, together.”

Ms Riviere said that problems with the public school system were not new.

She added that the state of the system was at “an all-time low”.

Ms Riviere said: “Now we have a situation that appears to be a literal standoff between the Ministry of Education and teachers.”

She said that she backed the industrial action taken by teachers.

Ms Riviere explained: “They are on the front lines and have to deal with the constant ramifications of an inept system.”

She added: “We need immediate solutions to the current issues plaguing our schools, student behaviour issues, lack of learning support teachers, technology upgrades and the standards-based grading debacle.

“We need the education ministry and department not to bend to the will of the teachers but to find the funds and wherewithal to create an environment that allows teachers to teach in a manner reflective of the 21st century in a country deemed to be affluent.”

Almost all the teachers at West Pembroke called in sick last month over a range of complaints, including a shortage of teaching assistants.

Ms Riviere warned at the time that similar action could be repeated at other schools. Teaching assistants across the island staged a similar sick-out last Friday.

Anthony Wolffe, vice-president of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, confirmed yesterday that industrial action would not continue today.

Mr Wolffe said: “Schools will be open. Teachers will be at their positions.”

But he added that teacher morale was at an “all-time low”.

Mr Wolffe said yesterday that industrial action was the only way to get the education ministry to deal with “grave concerns” raised by the union.

He added: “We are here in an attempt to save public education for the future of our children.”

Mr Wolffe said that the BUT had given the Government a list of 23 problems that had to be tackled. He added: “First, we demand the retraction of the use of standards-based grading until there is proof, with supporting data, that the infrastructure is in place for its implementation and that all teachers are properly trained and have mastered its use.”

Other worries included inadequate staffing and resources, technology problems and health and safety fears.

Ms Richards asked the union yesterday to order its members to return to work.

She said: “We are ready to re-engage with the BUT, through the Labour Relations Office. We see this as the best way forward for the sake of our children.”

Ms Richards said that the new standards-based grading system had been the main concern raised by the union in recent months.

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, announced last Friday that teachers would be given training in the new pupil grading system next month.

Shannon James, the president of the BUT, said that yesterday’s industrial action by teachers and principals showed “how strongly they feel about the issues within education”.

He added: “While the actions teachers have taken have very regrettably affected students, they feel that the issues that remain outstanding have an even greater impact on our young people.

“We need to get this resolved and I would invite the minister — and the Premier — to sit down with us and find a way forward.”

Mr James said: “No teacher wants to harm the education of our young people and all teachers want to resolve this situation so they can do what they love doing — helping Bermuda’s young people.”

Ms Richards said that additional concerns had been submitted to Mr Rabain by the BUT on November 29 and that the minister had met union executives on December 3.

She added: “There was no indication on the part of the BUT that they were dissatisfied with the process that was being followed to address their concerns.

“In fact, one of the BUT leaders stated that the ongoing communication was beneficial.”

Mr Rabain said yesterday that he had backed off on plans to insist that teaching assistants provide a sick note for their absence last week.

He added that he had changed his mind in “the interest of strengthening relations with the BUT and focusing on working to fix the problems”.

Mr Rabain said: “Consequently, no teacher will have to submit a sick note explaining their absence last week.”

He said the Government would continue talks with the BUT “to address the concerns they have raised and to ensure that the interests of our children come first”.

To view statements from Commissioner of Education Kalmar Richards, Shannon James, the president of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, the Ministry of Education and Diallo Rabain, the education minister, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”