Teachers at the Mason Hall Secondary School staged a noisy protest outside the school at lunchtime yesterday, calling on the Division of Education and Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles as Secretary of the Division to address major issues at the school.
TTUTA’s Tobago officer Orlando Kerr said the protest is one of the first steps the union will take to make Tobagonians aware of some of the long-standing issues faced by the island’s teachers and students.
“The main issue that the teachers are upset about is the science labs that cannot be used by the students. These labs have been down for more than two years. The Division of Education had given the assurance that these labs were going to be fixed and ready for September.
But when the vacation ended there were no labs.
"It is affecting the students because they cannot do any of the practical work that they need to do for their SBAs (school-based assessments) and therefore the students are placed at a disadvantage,” he said, adding that furniture is also a problem plaguing the school.
“Many of the students are actually sitting on tables because there are no chairs for them...there are no chairs for the teachers...
“Photocopying machines, printers – none of these issues have been addressed by the Division of Education. and therefore the teachers are saying enough is enough and they are not prepared to continue with the present situation."
Kerr mentioned similar situations at Speyside High, Goodwood High and Signal Hill Secondary.
“An entire year group is not at school – the whole of the fourth form is not at school because there is no furniture. I don’t know if we exist, in different Tobagos, but as of today, and as I speak, there are numerous challenges.”
He said division officials are blaming the schools' management for ongoing problems and the division is not playing its role in fixing the situation.
“We are not about casting blame and we are willing to work with the Division of Education to have these issues resolved, but you must admit that there are issues and you must be willing to sit and have serious and meaningful discussions on these issues. That is the only way forward."
He suggested the Chief Secretary should admit many schools have issues and perhaps apologise to the teachers and recognise the work they continue to do under less than ideal circumstances.
He said the division officials have not been working in good faith with TTUTA, but: “We have not had a meeting since the start of the term. We usually have a statutory meeting on the third Tuesday of each term and of course we intend to try to engage the Chief Secretary and the administrator on these matters, but that these matters have been ventilated in the public space before."
He said TTUTA had sent numerous documents to the division about the furniture, photocopiers, printers "and all other types of resources and it's as though it's falling on deaf ears."
The fact was, he said, that "things are not fine and we need to find a solution to these issues very quickly.”
He also took a jab at the PTA, saying he was very disappointed in it.
“No other group in Tobago is willing to agitate for education in Tobago. There are so many issues in the school and there is deafening silence on these matters and the only group that is agitating for better education and better resources for schools is the TTUTA, and this matter is not only a matter for teachers, this is a matter for Tobago people, for persons to wake up and realise we have to demand more from the persons in authority: give us better quality for our taxpayers’ dollars. And that is not happening.
Addressing the crowd after the protest, Kerr said other steps would be taken if division officials continued to ignore TTUTA’s requests. He declined to say what other action the union would take.
But he did say, “We intend to continue to do whatever we need to do so that our children will not be viewed as second-class citizens. Our children will have labs and furniture and we would have proper working and learning environment for our teachers and students.
"So we would continue to do whatever we need to do. Stay tuned, we will let you know.”