Although Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh has said there are in excess of some 2,000 teachers in Government primary schools, the T&T Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) and the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA) insist there is a shortage of primary school teachers across the country. TTUTA’s first vice president, Davanand Sinanan, yesterday called on the Education Ministry to immediate address the situation, saying the future of the children is at stake. His statements came in wake of calls last week by angry parents regarding inadequate staff at the Diego Martin Boys’ RC Primary School. Parents also complained there was no standard five teacher available. Sinanan said this situation reflected part of a wider problem which he described as “very serious” and was existing both in Government and denominational schools. He said at the start of the new school term TTUTA received several complaints from primary school principals about unfilled vacancies.
Checks with the Education Ministry, he added, showed, there was no hiring of new teachers resulting in teachers being overburdened. “That is causing a serious problem in many of our schools. In fact some of our schools are reporting the situation to be very acute because you have several vacancies existing in a particular school to the point where you have teachers teaching classes of 40 and 50 students because principals have had no choice but to double up classes to ensure that students do not remain unattended,” Sinanan added. He said there was a waiting list of people already interviewed by the Education Ministry to fill vacancies. “It’s a simply case of putting those people in the vacancies. I know there was protest action in two schools, one in Diego Martin and another at an Anglican school in Port-of-Spain. “I have had reports from Buenos Ayres Government Primary, a school in the countryside, so it’s across the board,” Sinanan added. He said he had relayed concerns to the Education Ministry and also through discussions with the Teaching Service Commission. “We are really hoping that between the ministry and the commission some kind of arrangements be put in place as soon as possible to alleviate this problem.”
Echoing his sentiments was NPTA’s president Zina Ramatali who yesterday called for a speedy resolution to the problem. “This matter is indeed a cause for concern. I have been getting calls for Egypt Village Government Primary, Diego Martin Boys’ RC Primary School and Blanchisseuse Government Primary School about the lack of teachers. “Teachers have also been going on courses, some on retirement and others on maternity leave and they are not being replaced and the ministry needs to address this problem immediately. In the case of retirement the ministry must know before whose leaving so that position could be filled. “This problem needs the collective efforts of keys stakeholders including the NPTA and TTUTA, Ramatali urged. She said this resulted in pupils continuously losing out on valuable teaching time. TTUTA’s president Rouston Job said the organisation will be conducting a survey to determine how grave the situation is so that recommendations could be forwarded to the Education Ministry.
Closer monitoring needed-Gopeesingh
Not only are there excess primary school teachers but the ratio is one teacher to 12 students in Government primary schools, Gopeesingh said yesterday. “We are way above the best practice standard because the norm is one teacher to 20 pupils and in some cases 25. “We have more teachers than we actually need. We have done an analysis and we are way better regarding best practice in most parts of the world,” Gopeesingh added. He said his ministry was seeking to make recommendations to the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) to address the situation of excess teachers. “Rearrangements and transfer of teachers is not an easy task. We are working with the Teaching Service Commission to see how best we can address the problem of excess teachers. “There are some schools with 50 pupils and they are operating with between seven to eight teachers,”Gopeesingh said. He said in the case of Diego Martin Boys’ RC Primary School, the board was solely to blame. “In the denominational schools the boards have to step in and take responsibility. We can’t take blame for what the board is supposed to do,” Gopeesingh said. He said in the case of Government secondary schools the ratio was also ‘excellent’ as there was one teacher to 13 students. The Education Minister also called on principals of denominational secondary schools to also exercise discipline when it came to looking after the affairs of the schools. “In some cases we give one denominational school close to $1 million a year and then they come to us saying they want this and that. This clearly shows a break down in discipline and the Education Ministry would be moving to deal with this kind of indiscipline.”