Fuel-price protest affects school turnout

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

General secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) Vijay Maharaj –

The protests headed by leader of the UNC opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar at nearly 30 points across the country on Tuesday affected the number of students who turned out on the day schools physically reopened.

Speaking to Newsday by phone on Tuesday, general secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) Vijay Maharaj and CEO of the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) Sharon Mangroo both said the turnouts at their schools were affected by the protest, with some parents choosing to keep their children home to avoid the anticipated traffic.

Maharaj said 85 per cent of students at the SDMS’s 43 primary schools and 80 per cent of its five secondary schools turned out on Tuesday.

“Parents were a little sceptical because of the traffic and striking. They decided to wait a day or two to send their kids out.”

But he said even though there was some fear that the protests would lead to the traffic, that did not happen and the transition into the physical environment was relatively smooth.

Maharaj also said SDMS schools began orientation with first and second year students last week Wednesday to acclimatise them to their new environment.

He said attendance was generally good and was happy with the turnout.

On Tuesday, a landslide in Robert Village, Tableland caused congestion and Maharaj said traffic had to stay on the Naparima-Mayaro road.

“The police (and) traffic wardens came out. School began late, but materials were dropped, and machinery is in place. Work should be finished by Thursday.”

Maharaj said some parents have said they are waiting out the week to see how things go, especially in relation to traffic, but have not indicated that they will be keeping students away from school altogether.

“We will get back into the groove of things by the end of the week.”

Mangroo also said the protests affected turnout at Catholic schools. At the time of Newsday’s phone call on Tuesday afternoon, she had received feedback from 21 of its schools. She said the total number of students expected in those schools was 5,714, but 3,723 turned out. All of the teachers were present.

“Some parents are waiting to see what happened. I would wait until the end of the week before we settle.”

She said four schools were not able to open on Tuesday, but she will have to follow up with the administrators to find out exactly why.

Other than the turnout, she said, as per the ministry’s guidelines, the first two weeks will not focus on academic teaching so students can catch up. She said principals were given resources to help them manage the next two weeks as students transition back into the physical environment.

Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon that data submitted to the ministry showed a turnout of 52 per cent at ECCEs, 64 per cent at primary and 67 per cent at secondary schools within the public school system, with a total of 121,609 students throughout 820 schools.

“In ten schools, critical works undertaken during the Easter vacation period were too extensive for completion in the required timeframe and students remain on rotational schedules while these are completed during this week,” said the statement.

It said teacher turnout at public primary and secondary schools was 95 per cent and 88 per cent respectively, with 97 per cent attendance at ECCEs.

It also said the school feeding programme, managed by the National Dietary Services Ltd, operated fully at schools on Tuesday and provided 55,954 breakfasts and 66,659 lunches to students.

“School transport began today for previously approved routes (and) approvals are expected throughout this week so that this service will be available along all routes by April 25.”

The statement said the Student Support Services Division (SSSD) has planned and is implementing sessions in all schools aimed at helping students make a seamless transition to the physical environment.

It said the Ministry of National Security, through the Community Police, had partnered with the Ministry of Education to provide 36 officers to assist SSSD staff at selected secondary schools.