TTUTA, school boards predict rough start to new term

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Uriah Benjamin seems quite unhappy with his mother Utah’s choice for his school bag for the new term beginning on Monday. Uriah will be attending Gasparillo Composite. – Lincoln Holder

THE PRESIDENT of the teachers’ union is anticipating a rough start to the new school year, which begins on September 4.

Martin Lum Kin, president of the TT Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA), said no information on vacation repairs, filling vacancies, admitting migrant children and other troubling issues in the education system had been forthcoming from the Ministry of Education (MoE).

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly promised a response on readiness for the new school term by Friday evening.

Like TTUTA, several heads of the denominational boards have expressed concern over the teacher shortage.

Transfers and reassignment of teachers were recommended since July but are yet to be approved by either the Teaching Service Commission (TCS) or the ministry, one board member told the Newsday.

The board member said a few schools were repaired under a critical repair programme, but days away from the new term, other schools were still waiting for work to be done.

The various boards also noted issues such as new furniture, no direct funding for stationery and cleaning supplies and the uncertainty of admitting migrant children as areas of concern.

In an interview, Lum Kin said, “In terms of school repairs, TTUTA is in the dark just like everyone else.”

He said he understood there was a problem with funding from the Ministry of Finance to the permanent secretary in the Education Ministry, but added: “We are just speculating.

“TTUTA is of the opinion if the PS was given the relevant funding, he would have instituted the relevant processes to get school repairs done. However, his hands were tied in getting funding.”

He said the union was not against repairs continuing during the weekend and after school, but wanted assurances from contractors there would be no safety and health concerns for staff and students .

Lum Kin said he had no information with respect to the decanting of St Rose’s RC School or where staff and students of Sisters Road Anglican, condemned since January, would be accommodated.

A section of St Rose’s was condemned in mid-February. Since then its standards one and two students have been using the pan room at the nearby Rosary Boys’ RC school on a rotation basis. Standards three and four students occupyied the library and reading room respectively. Standard fives and infants were accommodated in St Rose’s northern wing, which was deemed safe.

Catholic Board CEO Sharon Mangroo said the arrangement was temporary, but rebuilding plans can only be finalised once the project is allocated in the next budget.

In terms of accommodating Venezuelan migrant students, the Catholic Board of Education has said 17 schools are prepared to welcome them.

Mangroo said only children who pass an English assessment, which is being facilitated by UWI, will be allowed in the schools, once their parents are granted a permit by the National Security Ministry.

As TT is a signatory to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and education being one of those rights, Lum Kin said TTUTA was not against this initiative.

However, he said he was concerned that the spaces catering for the migrant children should not displace children who were nationals.

Mangroo has said since only a small percentage of children meet the criteria, there would be a small intake, not enough to overwhelm the system.

On the language and cultural barrier, Lum Kin said once teachers were adequately trained, he did not anticipate problems. He said the intermingling of the Spanish-speaking migrants and the English-speaking nationals could benefit both groups of students in learning another language.

For some time, schools have been crying out for vacancies for teachers to be filled. The denominational boards and the TSC have reached a stalemate over teaching appointments which has become the subject of a court matter.

Lum Kin called on the boards and the TSC and the ministry urgently to reach an amicable solution, as the only ones suffering were the children. He said it is not an ideal situation, as teachers have to teach more than one class and principals had to defer administrative duties to work as teachers.

“This is weighing on the morale of teachers and affecting students, who are not receiving full instructions from a dedicated teacher.”

At the end of the last term, Giselle Lewis, president of the Fifth Company Baptist School, Moruga Parent Teacher Association, along with other executive members, protested in front of the school for vacant positions to be filled.

Lewis said at the time, there were ten teachers to 500 students, with some teachers teaching multiple classes to make up for the shortfall.

Asked if any of the five vacancies had been filled, Lewis said in a telephone conversation when she contacted the ministry, she was told the PTA would have to wait until Monday to find out.