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MoE, TTUTA clash over school for vaccinated students; Gov’t wants more, union wants less

Ministry of Education: ‘[…] After analysis of the physical attendance data for Forms 4-6 students, the Government has proposed the reopening of physical school for all vaccinated secondary students of ages 12-18…’

Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association: ‘[…] The promotion of academic inequity by the MOE through its current mandate continues as evidenced by the ongoing low student turnout… TTUTA categorically expresses its disagreement with the reopening of physical school for Forms 1-3 at this time [and] calls for a discontinuation of face-to-face classes for Forms 4-6 (with exceptions)…”

The following are media statements from the Ministry of Education and the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) on the issue of physical school for all secondary school students:

Photo: A classroom is sanitised in Kolkata.

MoE: ‘Education Ministers meet with TTUTA on physical reopening of schools for fully vaccinated students of Forms 1-3’

Ministers of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly and Lisa Morris- Julian, along with officials of the Ministry of Education, met with the President and Executive of The Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) on 13 October 2021 to discuss the physical reopening of schools for vaccinated students of Forms 1-3.

The Ministry of Education advanced that feedback has been received of the difficulty some schools are experiencing in delivering online to Forms 1-3 and physically to Forms 4-6 students—despite the presence of connectivity infrastructure at the school, or the provision of MiFi devices and laptops to teachers. 

For this reason, and after analysis of the physical attendance data for Forms 4-6 students, the Government has proposed the reopening of physical school for all vaccinated secondary students of ages 12-18. This would be advantageous to both teachers and students, many of whom have been outside of the classroom for the past 19 months. 

At this time, based on the guidance from the Ministry of Health, the safest cohort of students for physical attendance at schools are the vaccinated—hence the approach taken by the Government on physical attendance. 

Photo: Ministers of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly (left) and Lisa Morris-Julian visit students at the Gandhi Memorial Vedic School during the Covid-19 pandemic.
(via Ministry of Education)

The issues raised by TTUTA included concerns about social distancing, physical infrastructure and the teaching of unvaccinated students. The discussion also focused heavily on teacher burn-out, as TTUTA cited incidences of teachers attempting to simultaneously teach online and physically, in contravention of their guidance.

TTUTA has advanced that the return of teachers to the physical classroom should be accompanied by a cessation of virtual or remote teaching, in order to preserve the work-life balance of teachers. 

Additionally, TTUTA informed of the need for discussions with the Chief Personnel Officer regarding the terms and conditions of teachers expected to provide remote or online teaching for students who are not attending school physically at this time. 

The Ministry of Education notes these positions, as further discussion is engaged with the wider stakeholder body on Thursday 14th October 2021.

Photo: Covid-19 restrictions have caused a global education crisis.

TTUTA president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas: ‘TTUTA’s position on a quality education system for all’

The Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) has, from inception, worked towards promoting the cause of education. It is certainly no different for this period where emergency remote engagement has ensued.

The continued institutionalised disrespect from the Ministry of Education (MOE) has skewed the response to education during this pandemic where education professionals have been bearing unnecessary hardship through irrational measures implemented by the MOE. A briefing with the recognised majority union is definitely not consultation!

The actions of the Government and the Minister of Education by way of her 8 October 2021 announcement regarding the face-to-face engagement of Forms 1 to 3 in the next two weeks can only be seen as an actual decision to be implemented by the MOE. TTUTA notes that this decision was made and announced to the public before consultation with the RMU.

The Union is of the view, then, that the invitation to meet on Wednesday 13th October 2021 is not in line with proper consultation but rather a mockery of Section 40 (1) of the Industrial Relations Act, Chapter 88:01 ‘to meet and treat in good faith with the RMU’. 

Photo: A school teacher prepares to deliver her lesson.

From March 2020 to present, TTUTA has repeatedly urged the Minister of Education to abide by the provisions of Section 74 E of the Education Act:

74E. Where an association is certified under this part as the appropriate recognised association – (c), shall have exclusive authority to be representative of such persons in the bargaining unit for consultation and negotiation in respect of any of the matters specified in section 63(1) and any other matters concerning such members of the Teaching Service so long as the certification remains in force; in addition to promoting the cause of education, it is paramount that the well-being of our membership is sufficiently catered to. 

TTUTA recognises the extraordinary efforts being put out by education professionals at the risk of their mental and emotional health. In light of measures put forward for return of physical schooling for vaccinated students only and the implications created for education professionals, the General Council met on 12 October and directed the Association to adopt the following position: 

Motion #1: Whereas: 

  1. Form 1 students under 12 years of age do not have the option of being vaccinated and there are students within the national school population who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. 
  2. There are schools that are not physically ready in relation to spatial limitations of the size and lay-out of classrooms and schools which do not allow for the safe movement and positioning of students and teachers whilst maintaining a healthy social distance.
  3. The promotion of academic inequity by the MOE through its current mandate continues as evidenced by the ongoing low student turnout.
  4. There is a need to ensure that priority is given to upper school students who are preparing for high stakes exams. 
Photo: TTUTA leads teachers in a demonstration before the pandemic.

Be it resolved that: TTUTA categorically expresses its disagreement with the reopening of physical school for Forms 1-3 at this time. 

Be it further resolved that: TTUTA calls for a discontinuation of face-to-face classes for Forms 4-6 with the exception of persons required to attend for the completion of all practical high stakes examination requirements. 

Motion #2: Be it resolved that TTUTA’s position is that as long as MOE insists that all at the secondary school level return to school, we operate as per our terms and conditions of work and cease all emergency engagements. 

This, in light of the fact that we demand to be part of a sustainable education system which engages the needs of all educators. 

TTUTA cannot facilitate the burning out of education professionals to maintain a system where everyone loses. Through meaningful consultation, measures that promote a sustainable system for all can be derived. 

It is in this regard that TTUTA calls for the support of all stakeholders in the plight of establishing a sustainable education system for all.

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