TTUTA boss: No proper plan for full school reopening

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

TTUTA president Antonia De Freitas. –

PRESIDENT of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) Antonia Tekah-De Freitas has accused the Ministry of Education of not properly implementing long-term strategies to support the full reopening of schools.

Tekah-De Freitas was speaking during a webinar hosted by The University of the West Indies entitled: Management of the National Education System on Friday.

Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadbsy-Dolly said the ministry will be monitoring the progress of the return to physical school for upper school students, forms 4-6, for both vaccinated and unvaccinated students, and they will consider reopening for lower forms 1-3 in January.

Responding to a question from Newsday about how she feels about the plan, Tekah-De Freitas said, “Do you as a citizen, or teacher, or parent feel comfortable hearing ‘if all goes well?’ That does not signal a systematic plan. How do we measure (that) when we look at what is happening now with the closure of schools ever so often?

“(It) does not inspire confidence that our system will be ready to accommodate the students.

“There must be a coming together of minds to plan for the coming reopening. Failure to put things in place now will worsen when schools reopen to all.”

She said the physical capacity of schools, supervision to maintain physical distancing and the technical capacity to facilitate effective curriculum delivery all need to be carefully considered before a full reopening.

She said teachers have noted the rise in cases since schools have been in the physical environment. “We have to close for a day or two to get sanitisation and contact tracing done. That disruption does not bode well for students (including) performance during high-stake exams like the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exams.”

She said although education has been the focus of the past two budget readings there has not been tangible investment to demonstrate a systematic long-term plan for education at all levels in TT.

Planning coordinator in the Planning Department of the Tobago House of Assembly Bobby Andrews also said schools are struggling with vaccine-hesitant parents.

“The concept of herd immunity is not just a population concept. It has layers.”

He said herd immunity needs to be examined at different levels, including regional, national, community, and household herd immunity.

“If there is not herd immunity in the households then (the schools) remain at risk for negative impact.”

He said because children cannot give consent to receive the vaccine and depend on parents who are largely hesitant, it has created issues with creating herd immunity in the schoolyard environment.

He said when primary schools reopened ahead of Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exams within two weeks, 11 schools were closed. “Nothing will be different this time.”

He said the real goal should be universal access and acceptance of the vaccine.

Administrator and educator at the School of Education, UWI, St. Augustine, Dr. Sabeerah Abdul- Majied said Government intervention was also needed at the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) level.

She said ECCE teachers have had a hard time during the pandemic keeping the attention of their students. “Teachers go online and research activities for their students (and) ways to simulate the face-to-face environment. (ECCE students) need to be actively engaged.”

She said large-scale research is needed to determine the productivity and progress of students who have been engaged in online learning during the pandemic. “What I can say is teachers are doing their best and they need support.”