The Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) says teachers will be out in order to comply with the instruction by the Ministry of Education (MoE) for all students in Forms Four to Six to return to school from Monday.
However, the union quickly noted that it is the ministry’s responsibility to provide safe spaces for them to operate in with the COVID-19 virus still a major issue concerning the operation of schools.
Commenting on the issue yesterday, TTUTA president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas said she was pleased, however, that the ministry had taken one of their main recommendations on board.
“The Ministry of Education was asked by TTUTA to choose one modality for curriculum delivery and that is what they did,” she said, noting that they will now only be teaching Forms 4-6 students in person, as opposed to being asked to do both in-person and online teaching.
Both vaccinated and unvaccinated students have been mandated to return to classrooms from October 25—as online sessions will be discontinued for this cohort of students.
Tekah-De Freitas indicated yesterday that their members will acquiesce to the latest policy decision.
“This requires the Ministry of Education to ensure that all safety mechanisms are in place throughout all schools,” she said.
She claimed teachers were now following instructions, which she noted is what they are supposed to do.
“We are safe-guarding their interests by making sure that they go to do the jobs they have been instructed to. The ministry has to treat with students otherwise.”
When the Ministry of Education restarted in-person classes for Forms 4-6 students on October 4, only vaccinated students were allowed to return to classrooms, while unvaccinated students were told they would remain engaged in virtual learning.
The decision was heavily criticised by TTUTA and the Concerned Parents Movement of TT (CPMTT), who called on the ministry to revisit this plan.
Yesterday, Tekah-De Freitas said TTUTA was insistent on one modality for teaching, as this would reduce the burden on teachers who had been forced to conduct face-to-face classes, prepare online sessions and also compile packages for students without devices and/or internet connectivity.
Both the CPMTT and the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA) had previously expressed satisfaction with the directive to return to in-person classes for the student cohort from Monday.
Indicating that both vaccinated and unvaccinated teachers had been engaging in face-to-face sessions with only vaccinated students before, CPMTT public relations officer Shamila Raheem yesterday said, “Now, it’s really just to get unvaccinated students back into classrooms as part of the equation.”
She revealed that stakeholders had initially proposed to the ministry that students be allowed to remain online for the remainder of 2021, “because of the whole social distancing requirement.”
Raheem said the suggestion was due largely in part to the fact that some schools cannot adequately accommodate all their students when this is factored in due to space constraints.
She admitted, however, that the return to school directive for Forms 4-6 students had taken parents by surprise, and they were now scampering to buy uniforms, shoes, books and stationery for Monday. She said concerns had now arisen as to whether the National School Feeding Programme and the Private School Transport Operators would also be resuming operations.
Raheem said she had hoped a little more thought had gone into the planning for the reopening.
“It came across a little hasty.”
However, she added, “We just wanted the segregation to stop.”
Raheem said some principals have also now expressed concerns that if, due to space constraints, a shift system has to be effected in January, when Forms One to Three students are expected to be brought back out, it could mean that the school syllabus would take longer to complete.
Also contacted yesterday about TTUTA’s announcement, interim NPTA president Zena Ramatali said, “We are pleased to know that all our children will be taught, as our position remains education for all as long as all health protocols are put in place and followed to the utmost.
“We are also stating that children and parents should continue to be educated to remain vigilant against this pandemic.”