Primary School students walk on Broadway, Port of Spain, on their way home after the first day of school on Monday. – Angelo Marcelle
There was a strong turnout of teachers and students on Monday, the opening day of the school year.
Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly told Newsday via Whatsapp that 97 per cent of primary school teachers turned up for work while 94 per cent of secondary school teachers showed up.
The turnout was less among students, with 83 per cent of primary school students attending school on the first day and 82 per cent of secondary school students turning up for classes.
Gadsby-Dolly said 99 per cent of the 830 public ECCE, primary and secondary schools across the country opened yesterday.
Only 0.6 per cent of schools opened on rotation while the remaining 0.4 per cent did not open owing to extensive repair works.
Gadsby-Dolly said, “In all cases except one, repair works are carded to be completed during the course of this week.”
Speaking to Newsday by phone on Monday, TTUTA president Martin Lum Kin said while some schools had resorted to online classes until they were able to reopen, it was not working in some cases.
He pointed to Sister Road Anglican Primary as an example.
“Educators reported that it was not effective, because they had roughly a ten per cent attendance, because these students have challenges in connectivity.”
Also on Monday, president of the Primary School Principals Association Carlene Hayes said attendance in rural areas on the opening day were below average.
“Normally, first day…in urban schools we will get about 70 to 80 per cent attendance but in the rural schools probably about 60 per cent… But it picks up within this (the first) week.”
Hayes also singled out WASA for praise for its response to the water woes facing some schools.
“WASA responded in a timely manner in supplying schools that didn’t have any water with a truck-borne supply so they have really facilitated to ensure that primary schools got water.”
Gadsby-Dolly said disruptions owing to water shortages were also minimised by measures put in place by the ministry.
“(The) Ministry of Education collects data on a daily basis and provides it to WASA, so they can provide schools who require it with a truck-borne supply of water.”
She said that allowed the ministry to address any water issues by “using routine measures and usual systems to send to WASA the information about schools requiring water.”
Other education stakeholders, however, raised concerns about insufficient furniture and the heat facing students and teachers.
President of the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA) Kevin David said, “Orders were placed during the last term, but it seems as though those furniture have not been delivered as yet.”
Lum Kin also raised the issue as he said there were reports of schools not having enough furniture for all the students.
He said some schools would have had increased enrolment in previous years but the amount of furniture in the school was not increased accordingly.
He said additionally, “A number of furniture now is beyond its life span and is breaking up. And the ministry has not provided many schools the requisite furniture.”
Lum Kin said the situation had led to overcrowding and possible health and safety issues as teachers must now join benches to accommodate larger classes.
“You have instances where even if you have the amount of furniture, the spacing between the desks (is) very small and beyond the recommended space to allow movement and, in case of emergency, to evacuate the classroom.”
Lum Kin, David and Hayes all noted that the heat proved to be a challenge for many schools.
They called for increased funding to assist schools in being outfitted with fans or air conditioning.
David noted that in the the meantime, the NPTA is doing what it can to address the issue on its own.
“We will have to look at how much fans can be donated to alleviate this heat. The NPTA is comprised of units so those units will put up money to purchase fans.”