The current stand-off between the Ministry of Education and the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) regarding next week’s introduction of a synchronous regime of online/in-person teaching must be defused with a rapid return to consultation.
The fact that less than half of the nation’s teachers, 44 per cent, reported for duty yesterday in the first of TTUTA’s two-day “Operation Blackout” protest is reason enough for the ministry to take the teachers’ act of resistance seriously.
The nation’s pupils already have enough to contend with, and do not need to be further burdened by hard-ball negotiations between warring adults. With the education system now on the verge of taking a leap back into physical classes, pupils would be trusting in the ability of the open and intelligent minds on both sides to find a way through the challenges of teaching and learning conducted simultaneously in-person and online.
Although fraught with challenges and some risk, one cannot fault the Ministry of Education’s attempt to power its way through the pandemic and re-open schools to vaccinated pupils in Forms Four to Six. Pupils have already endured an unimaginable year and a half of disruption to their education and lives. No one, least of all pupils, was prepared for life under pandemic conditions. In attempting to keep the education system moving along, the Ministry of Education cobbled resources for online teaching—which was far from ideal, but undoubtedly preferable to shutting down the system while waiting out the pandemic, which nobody anticipated would still be exacting its toll 18 months later.
On the other hand, one cannot understate the immense contribution of teachers in keeping the education system ticking over to ensure that key thresholds of the Secondary Entrance Assessment exam and the Caribbean Examinations Council’s O-Level and A-Level exams, were met. With virtually no training in the delivery of online education, and while balancing the care and education of their own children at home, teachers shepherded their pupils over and around multiple hurdles. Many dug into their own pockets and organised fund-raising initiatives to equip children with the devices needed for accessing online classes. Some took abuse, and many suffered the pangs of delivering less than their best under very trying conditions.
Notwithstanding the heroic efforts within the ministry, among teachers and all the other stakeholders, including pupils, parents, principals and administrative and support staff, the pandemic-hit education system has lost a few thousand children who dropped out of school. The education of many thousands more who survived the challenges and stayed the course has been compromised by the pandemic conditions.
The Government’s limited reopening of schools from Monday is a major development that will only succeed with goodwill on the part of all and a commitment to work through problems as they arise.
If TTUTA believes teachers have not been adequately consulted or have been marginal to the decision-making process, then notwithstanding the ministry’s position that there has been adequate consultation it should not hesitate to re-engage TTUTA. With roughly 72 hours to go before Monday’s momentous re-opening, there is no time to waste in buckling down and crafting a resolution.