ABSENT – 70% of teachers ‘rest’ on first day of school

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

School officials walk in on the first day of the new school term at the Chaguanas South Secondary School, Helen Street, Chaguanas, on Monday. – AYANNA KINSALE

TEACHERS’ response to a call to stay away from schools on the first day of the 2022/2023 academic year angered parents on Monday, as hundreds of excited children were left disappointed by their decision to take a day to rest on reflect.

A total of 305,000 students and a little over 30,100 teachers were expected to return to physical classses but the Ministry of Education, on Monday afternoon, said 3,243 teachers reported for duty at government and denominational schools.

Data from the Division of School Supervision said 17 per cent of students turned up for classes and 27 per cent of teachers reported for duty at primary schools. That’s 16,819 pupils and 1,392 teachers.

At denominational primary schools, the teacher and student attendance was 28 per cent and 20 per cent respectively, while the corresponding attendance at government schools was 24 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.

At secondary schools 28,738 students and 1,851 teachers – 39 and 31 per cent respectively –were present.

At denominational secondary schools, the teacher and student attendances were 47 per cent and 68 per cent respectively, while the corresponding attendance at government schools was 25 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.

For many students, Monday would have been the first normal school day in two years since the start of the covid19 pandemic in 2020.

A week ago the ministry confirmed its readiness to have the education system finally normalised. The minister, Nyan Gadsby-Dolly was aware of the planned boycott and urged teachers to ignore the call of their union.

But teachers had already approached their union president asking to send a message to the government.

Last Friday, TTUTA publicly rejected Chief Personnel Officer Dr Daryl Dindial’s latest offer of a four per cent wage increase to settle wage for the 2014-2019 collective bargaining period.

And so, TUTTA decided to stay away from classes to show their dissatisfaction with the offer and to highlight poor working conditions.

A parent walks her son to school at Presentation College, San Fernando, on the first day of the school term on Monday – Lincoln Holder

By 9 am on Monday morning, schools were reporting abnormally low school attendance among teachers.

Speaking to Newsday minutes before the school day ended, TTUTA president Antonia De Freitas said preliminary numbers showed between 85 and 90 per cent support from teachers.

Several schools were dismissed by noon as a result.

TTUTA Tobago officer Bradon Roberts told Newsday that 80 per cent of teachers stayed away from schools. Assistant Secretary for Education, Research and Technology and former head of Tobago TUTTA Orlando Kerr said TUTTA has lost its way in response to the poor turnout.

This response did not surprise De Freitas because the call came directly from members.

“Our members supported well, and we look forward to continued support. This was not a call made by the president. This was a call by the members, through the general council. This is something they asked for. They asked for this advocacy and they gave the support that they needed and wanted to see.”

Newsday’s south office observed what seemed to be a high turnout among teachers and students in San Fernando and environs.

In Tobago, videos of parents angered to see their children turned away circulated. In one clip, a mother was seen trying to comfort her crying child as she stood near the locked school gates at St Andrews Anglican at Calder Hall Road, Scarborough.

Police told Newsday they quickly sent officers out to prevent any gatherings along the streets with the early dismissal of schools.

The National Parent/Teachers Association president Kevin David has described the success of this rest and reflect as a “very sad day for our nation.”

He said, “A lot of our parents are struggling financially, they went above and beyond to ensure their children had all that was needed for school and it was a disappointing time for them for their children to have to go home.

“Many of them are upset because this is the first day of physical school in three years and they would have been prepared for education to resume.”

He said many parents decided to keep their children away from school.

Despite the mixed emotion on the matter, David said it’s important to understand the reason for such an overwhelming response to abandon classes.

“We have to look at it from the teacher’s side too. They are being paid a salary and they are not satisfied. I’m not going to bash them for taking this stand but at the end of the day, our mandate is to ensure there is a reduction in learning loss for our children.

“I don’t want to linger on that point where we become too antagonistic to teachers but we are pleading that our PTAs step up and fill the gap when events like this happen. This is to prevent a disruption in education. It was not the first and it will not be the last.”

Some denominational boards reported a high turnout. The Catholic Education Board and the Presbyterian School Board reported a high level of absenteeism among students at the primary school level and a poor turnout among teachers.

However, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha said its preliminary numbers show a high level of turn of both teachers and students.

Up to 2 pm, TTUTA reported that 75 per cent of teachers in Port of Spain had stayed away, 80 per cent of teachers in the northeast, 85 per cent in the southeast and 78 per cent of teachers in the Victoria district supported the action.

Numbers for teacher turnout in the St Patrick, Caroni, and St George East districts were still being tallied up to news time.