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Wednesday 21 February 2018
Commentary

Education challenges for 2018

TTUTA writes a weekly column for the Newsday.

As the new term settles in, the economic and administrative realities of education have begun to take its toll on many of the nation’s schools. Many schools belonging to denominational boards have been complaining that they have not received money for several months to pay janitorial staff.

Some would have resorted to loan arrangements through their respective boards to cover some of these routine expenses in the hope that requisite funding from the Ministry of Education would have materialised before the end of the last term.

Consumables are also nearing depletion point in most schools and principals have been resorting to fund-raising activities to procure basic supplies such as toilet paper and soap.

Government secondary schools have not received any monies in their vote for the academic year thus far. In fact they have been given an “allocation” for planning purposes and have been told that when monies become available, the respective sums will be released. In the interim principals are not to incur any credit on the assumption that whenever the “allocation” materialises payments can be made to suppliers.

In many instances, support staff — guidance officers, school social workers and information technology technicians — have not had their contracts renewed for several months and are thus unable to perform their critical functions at schools. This has had a crippling effect on many schools.

In other instances, whenever permanent staff retire, get promoted or transferred, replacements have not been forthcoming. This practice is not confined to teaching staff. Repeated appeals to the authorities for replacements seem to go on deaf ears.

Repairs and routine maintenance of plant and equipment have become a significant challenge. While the authorities insist on the formulation and implementation of lofty school development plans, the attainment of strategic education objectives are contingent upon access to the requisite resources. In the current scenario, many school administrators are forced to abandon their strategic plans and merely fight to keep their schools open and running on bare essentials.

All of this has and continues to impact negatively on curriculum delivery. While stakeholders are mindful of the current economic realities facing the country, the communication approaches by the Ministry of Education leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, school officials find it virtually impossible to speak to senior ministry officials to get answers to their requests and queries.

Since the ministry moved to its new education tower, teachers and principals can only get to the first floor of the building and are only allowed to interact with low-level clerical officers who will take note of your query, question or concern.

The most that may happen is a telephone conversation with someone higher up the building. Such is the level of contempt that the ministry has for its own employees, the very people who are being asked to exercise patience, restraint and understanding in these austere economic times.

It would seem that school officials pose a major security risk and elaborate steps have been taken to physically keep them out of the Ministry of Education tower. While stakeholder engagement and dialogue are being touted, on the one hand, as integral to the ministry’s modus operandi, TTUTA continues to have serious challenges to engage in dialogue to not just resolve issues, but gain insights and consequently a better understanding of the gravity of the issues.

During the last instance when TTUTA engaged in peaceful picket action outside the ministry to highlight the plight of education support personnel, it would seem the action incurred the anger and wrath of officials to the point where people wearing TTUTA apparel were denied entry to the building. If this is the attitude of the employer to the recognised bargaining unit for teachers, we would have reached a very low point in the education annals of our country.

While we are all happy to do our part in the economic adjustment process, not levelling with stakeholders and employees in an honest, respectful and sincere manner will not do anyone any good, least of all our country. The recent directive given to schools to engage in fund-raising activities will not sit well if TTUTA and its membership are treated with disdain. Collaborating with TTUTA on the most effective way forward is good management.

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