THE SPECTRE of protest action by teachers has now emerged in both Trinidad and Tobago. President of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association, Lynsley Doodhai, has threatened the withholding of School-Based Assessment (SBA) marks nationally, while over in Tobago large protests have occurred in front of the Division of Education, Innovation and Energy in Scarborough. Both represent the unacceptable use of children as bargaining tools in industrial relations practice and should be condemned.
Let us be clear. We do not begrudge teachers their right to be properly compensated for work done. Nor do we find it acceptable that, after three years of talks, the State has failed to resolve a list of 24 concerns held by teachers in Tobago. That list is as distressing as it is long: teachers do not have enough resources, endure lax security, and do not have necessary support staff. How can we say we are serious about education if the most important officials within the education system are treated thus?
But while these are legitimate grouses, they do not justify the tactic of holding children hostage. Notwithstanding claims that the protests will not affect SEA students, no parent can rest easy. The protests have sent a chilling message: classrooms can be abandoned at any moment pursuant to industrial relations negotiations. This creates an unhealthy aura of uncertainty.
Regarding SBAs, we find Doodhai’s logic to be elegant but ultimately based on the wrong premises.
It is true that the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) is an external agency that does not have authority over teachers. And it is also true that no employee should be forced to do work for free. But CXC is a regional body set up through government-to-government cooperation. And teachers must comply with the mandate given them by the Government and the terms and conditions incidental to the job they do.
Further, the nature of SBAs is such that they are set and assessed by teachers. In other words, no regional or external body can properly oversee the kinds of projects that become SBAs. Doodhai cannot pretend that the matter is as simple as an alien body forcing teachers to do more unpaid work.
We support teachers to the extent that they are seeking to bring attention to and resolve matters affecting them. However, we cannot condone threats or practices that harm students by creating anxiety in the classroom. To do so would be to teach children the lesson that they should seek what they want by any means necessary. That is a very bad lesson.