Monday, April 22, 2024



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THE CURRENT DISPUTE between the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and the Ministry of Education over the marking of the school-based assessments (SBAs) is beginning to border on the ridiculous.

My use of the term ridiculous is not to belittle the impact of the issue on students, parents, and the education system generally, but rather it suggests that the ongoing saga has reached a point which is both vexing and unnecessary.  

It is clear that this is essentially a stand-off with neither side prepared to act reasonably in a matter which has such tremendous implications. At this point both parties present a picture of petulant toddlers stamping their feet with hands folded in defiance of each other. It appears that each intends to see how far they can bully the other party.

The refusal by the Ministry of Education, as reported in the Press, to meet is unfortunate. There is perhaps some justification for this. I figure, however, that this is essentially about pride and some determination not to give in to what is perceived as the underhand tactics of the BSTU. While this is perhaps nderstandable, conflict resolution as opposed to winning cannot be based on pride but rather on an objective appreciation of who stands to lose in the process and what is the most reasonable way forward.  

Similarly, the BSTU has taken a stance and used tactics which perhaps have become synonymous with the current leadership of the organisation. It appears that there is no middle road, and conflicts tend to escalate at high speed in a very public way. While the positions might be somewhat justified, delivery is often very important and no one wants to be publicly shamed and backed into a corner. The current approach of the BSTU to issues with the Ministry of Education often appears to be very aggressive.

My scan of the regional media suggests that while the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) is demanding proper compensation for the correction of SBAs from the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) and is also suggesting that there might be unified action across the region, it has actually stopped short of asking teachers not to correct the SBAs. Moreover, it seems that the regional teachers’ body has addressed all of its dissatisfaction over the situation to CXC.

Why does it seem that in Barbados it has become an issue primarily between the Ministry of Education and the BSTU? In so doing, CXC has been able to remain in the background, saying little as the situation escalates.    

I must applaud the Barbados National Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (NCPTA) for their attempts to be the voice of reason. I would encourage them to continue to try to mediate between the two sides and to avoid taking a stance on the issues – as doing that would put them on one side or the other.

 In all of this I am sure that there is sufficient blame to go around. However, pointing fingers and continuing to blame one another just moves the actions of both parties from resembling petulant toddlers to resembling quarrelsome teenagers. For this to be resolved, one or both of the parties will have to determine that they have made their point sufficiently and that they can come to the table prepared to negotiate.

Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. Email:


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