Education crisis: mass sickout staged
A sickout staged by teaching assistants across the island yesterday was “completely unacceptable”, said the Minister of Education.
But the head of the teachers' union laid the blame for the job action at the minister's door.
The teaching assistants' sickout came amid continued frustration at the Bermuda Union of Teachers over a lack of resources and staff support at schools.
Diallo Rabain confirmed that para-educators “throughout our system” had been “instructed to call in sick”.
He said: “Para-educators are an important portion of our teaching experiences.
“Without para-educators within the school system, we run the risk of putting our students at real risk. And, at the end of the day, it's about our students.”
Mr Rabain was speaking as he delivered an update on talks between the Ministry of Education and the union about teachers' concerns.
He said that, as a parent of a public school pupil, he had faith in the system “to deliver a high-quality educational experience”.
But he added: “This cannot be achieved with these constant disruptions we have been experiencing lately.
“It is having a negative effect on all of our students and their educational experience.”
Mr Rabain said that despite “positive discussions” with the union “we are still faced with action from the BUT and their members at an unsustainable rate”.
He said the BUT had sent a list of “23 items of concern” last week.
Mr Rabain said that some of the concerns “had already been addressed or were in the process of being addressed”.
He added: “The concerns remaining require long-term solutions and ways to go about addressing them were also discussed.”
Shannon James, the president of the BUT, said yesterday that Mr Rabain needed “to talk less and act more”.
He added: “The time for talking has long gone.”
Mr James said that inaction by Mr Rabain on teacher concerns had hurt pupils more than industrial action.
He explained: “The list of issues we have highlighted all impact the students because our teachers cannot do their job effectively.”
Mr James said the sickout was a “direct result” of the Government's failure to tackle problems highlighted last week.
He added: “As I said then, people have just had enough and that has not changed.”
Mr James said that many teaching assistants did not get breaks, worked without a job description, and had not been given entitlements under the collective bargaining agreement.
He added: “We have education therapists with no job descriptions, we still do not have education officers for maths, English and science.
“Where there used to be nine mentor teachers, there are now three, and there are no allocated substitute teachers at primary schools.”
Mr James said that windows and fire alarms in some schools were broken and computers lacked proper software.
Almost all teachers at West Pembroke Primary School called in sick last Friday over a range of complaints, including a shortage of teaching assistants.
Danielle Riviere, the president of the West Pembroke Primary School Parent Teacher Association, warned that similar action could be repeated at schools across the island.
Judith Alexander, the principal of Purvis Primary School, added that “most” problems faced by teachers at West Pembroke “are faced by all teachers”.
Ms Alexander said in a letter sent to parents yesterday that the island's education system was in “a state of uncertainty”.
She said that a work-to-rule launched by head teachers last month was “in protest at unbearable working conditions”.
Ms Alexander added that talks to resolve problems were “not making good progress”.
She said: “There is the possibility that school personnel will be called on to down tools.”
Ms Alexander said parents would be notified by e-mail of any industrial action.
The head teacher said school staff were “committed to providing the best education”.
She added: “We are appreciative of the support that we receive from our parents.”
Cole Simons, the shadow education minister, said yesterday that he was “very distressed with the state of play with our teachers, paraprofessionals, principals, the BUT and the minister”.
He added: “The tension, dysfunction and challenge that we see today truly demonstrates how the minister and the ministry are disconnected from what really transpires in our schools from a teaching, paraprofessional, administrative, professional development and support perspective and, more importantly, parental perspective.”
Mr Simons said “more synergy and better communication” was needed among all involved “so there is a higher level of trust”.
He suggested the time might have come for an independent education authority.
• To read the full statements from Diallo Rabain, Shannon James, Cole Simons and Judith Alexander, click on the PDFs under “Related Media”