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Unnecessary Education Conflict
Two weeks ago, a very public and quite ugly argument erupted at Cunupia Secondary School between T&T Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) second vice-president Orville Carrington and Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh. It was a disruptive, shameful exercise, which began after the minister tried to shame teachers with allegations of deliberate latecoming, using the school’s public address system, and was compounded by a televised recording of Mr Carrington objecting to the minister’s statements with a notable lack of decorum.
No adult, informed intervention has been made since to ameliorate this regrettable incident, which set a shockingly poor example for the students of the school. Instead, things got worse. The incident shifted into higher gear last Wednesday when the minister directed the deputy permanent secretary to bar Mr Carrington from entering the ministry when he arrived as part of a delegation to discuss TTUTA business.
The union’s president, Roustan Job, promptly announced a boycott of the meeting and seems ready to stonewall the ministry on the matter. Dr Gopeesingh and TTUTA’s leadership seem set to continue this pointless jousting over an issue that needs to be seriously addressed by both parties.
The situation is doubly unfortunate, coming as it does on the heels of two years of turbulent negotiations between the Chief Personnel Officer and TTUTA and the announcement of a new round of negotiations for 2011-2014 last month—making the need for a good working relationship between the Government and the teachers’ union in these back-to-back, extended discussions a necessity, not a luxury.
The imbroglio has left the Education Ministry and TTUTA at loggerheads, and the union insists that it will not meet with the minister if he insists on making judgements about its representatives.
Nobody is in the right in this situation. The minister set the whole unfortunate ball rolling by choosing to vent his frustrations with what he saw as planned failures to teach via a public address system. Mr Carrington compounded the situation by responding emotionally in full view of video cameras and impressionable students, and the errors in judgement haven’t stopped since.
As lunatic as it may seem, it looks like the Government’s lead on education and the union elected to represent the nation’s teachers, both of whom are expected to negotiate potential conflicts on behalf of the interests they represent, need a mediator to settle this situation.
Apologies are owed all around: the minister to TTUTA for failing to direct his concerns appropriately, Mr Carrington to the minister for disrespecting his office, and both men to the students of Cunupia Secondary School for setting such a poor example of adults in authority roles.
Dr Gopeesingh and Mr Carrington should both be big enough to acknowledge their mistakes in this matter, do what’s so obviously called for and move on in the interest of the public education system and also with a clearer understanding of their responsibility to set an example to the teachers and students they represent.
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