With schools in session for just under a month into the new school year, teachers are complaining about limited resources and limited space for and a lack of information on a programme to address underperforming students in the 2017 Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exams.
Orlando Kerr, Tobago Officer, Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA), told Tobago Newsday that urgent issues being raised by teachers were being ignored by the Education Division which is headed by Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles.
Kerr said in the first week of the term, teachers from Roxborough Secondary and Signal Hill Secondary, approached TTUTA with legitimate concerns about allocations of space and resources and about which teachers were assigned to special needs students.
“If you are going to put remedial students into certain schools, make sure it is equipped with the resources to deal with those students. We have had no
discussion with the Division of Education on plans they have proposed for first formers of these secondary schools this year.
“Since the new school term began, teachers have been wondering what the programme was and are still wondering and asking about what was expected of them. They are asking if is it that these students will not be doing CXC,” he said.
Eighty students who scored 30 percent and below in the 2017 Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam have been placed, in equal numbers, at the Signal Hill and Roxborough Secondary Schools.
In July, Charles had announced plans for training of teachers in both in the secondary and primary schools, along with assistance for students preparing to enter secondary school. He said a Post-SEA programme had been established where teachers in the secondary schools would interact with underperforming students to identify their strengths and weaknesses. The training sessions, each four weeks long, was intended to “to reinforce the development of basic skills of literacy and numeracy as to improve the probability and their chances of success at the secondary school.”
“Come September they (students) would be better off if there was no intervention at all,” Charles had said.
The Education Secretary has also said the students would undergo academic and psycho-social assessments to determine the challenges they continue to struggle with. He had also announced a developmental reading and writing programme to be introduced in primary schools in September – a replacement of the previous secondary schools Remedial Programme which ended late last year. Among other initiatives, he had announced was a one-week leadership programme, “Professional Development for Principals” in August, which targeted 80 persons - principals, head of departments and deans from secondary schools across the island. And also over the July/August holidays, 18 teachers from the Scarborough Methodist Primary School were enlisted in a three-weeks dyslexic training programme while
30 teachers from 10 primary schools were enlisted in a one-week programme entitled “Leading for Literacy.”
On August 30, Charles announced plans to establish a Teachers’ Development Centre to boost education through training teachers in innovative teaching methods to improve their effectiveness in the classroom.
But Kerr contended that none of these initiatives were or have been discussed with TTUTA nor teachers.
“Teachers are very disappointed at the approach taken by the Secretary of the Division of Education with regards to these new programme. It seems as though they (Education) are trying to keep TTUTA out of the process because we are hearing about initiatives but we don’t know what it entails. How do they expect our members to buy into these programmes if they (Education) do not come forward to the Association?” asked Kerr.
He said teachers at these schools have also complained about “rammed” classes, with up to 40 students per teacher, with limited classroom space and a shortage of tables and chairs for students.
“We indicated to the Division to look at the spaces available and place students accordingly. Some teachers in Scarborough Secondary have only 15 students, the burden needs to be even out. They continue to place a large number of students at Roxborough and Signal Hill Secondary school,” he said.
“It’s counterproductive for teachers to be teaching classes that are too large. The ratio for the infant level is 25 to one teacher, the junior level is 30 students to one
teacher and the secondary level is 35 to one teacher. This is the new generation of teachers and the message they are getting is that the Division doesn’t care about them.”
Kerr also noted issues with disrepair at schools. He said the ceiling at the Roxborough Anglican school was falling apart, and issue that TTUTA Tobago has been complaining about for almost a year,
“The concrete is swelling and pieces of concrete from a new wing recently built on the school are falling. This is dangerous and for all we know, one day a large piece could fall killing a teacher or student. I have instructed the teachers not to go to that area and I know they have since been relocated.
“There is even one area where teachers said a lighting fixture is hanging out. It is a shame since the Division just completed work on schools around Tobago,” he said, wondering what no attention was paid to this school.