This week’s article draws on excerpts from the TTUTA president’s Republic Day message as we continue to examine what is happening in the current education landscape of Trinidad and Tobago
THE CONSTITUTION in any context is viewed as sacrosanct – and TTUTA shares that belief. TTUTA posits that there must be consistency in the creation and application of laws in the interest of the “public good.” As a member of the United Nations, TT has embedded within the Constitution several basic human rights which should not be disregarded or deviated from.
There have been many perspectives that the most recent state policy of only vaccinated students returning to school is an infringement of the rights of students to quality education. All citizens have the right to equality of treatment from any public authority.
In this regard, TTUTA, as a member of Education International, reaffirms the position that no policy or action which could possibly exacerbate inequality among the learning population should be implemented (taken from a motion passed at the emergency General Council meeting on September 21).
“Each and every person deserves free quality public education. We believe education is a human right and a public good, which must be accessible to all.” TTUTA maintains that TT agreed to the attainment of UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030, especially Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4):
“To ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Significantly, SDG4 recognised that quality education can only be delivered by qualified teacher.
Consequently, as an association whose very first aim is to “promote the cause of education,” TTUTA’s positions and advocacy must be aligned with the goals of our country’s Constitution, as well as the goals of Education International and the UN. TTUTA is bound, always, to consider the welfare of education professionals as well as the welfare of students.
As such, the General Council of TTUTA has taken the decision that:
“In light of the potential inequity that may occur among the learning population because of the policy of the Ministry of Education to allow only vaccinated students to return to school physically, we move that both vaccinated and unvaccinated students of Forms 5 and 6 should be allowed to attend classes to complete their SBAs, IAs, CVQs in their practical subjects. We further move that only when schools are appropriately and adequately prepared for reopening should we consider re-entry into the physical space.”
In the first instance, the recognised majority union was not consulted or negotiated with before this decision was taken by the State, as per the requirements of the Education Act, section 74E.
The association firmly believes that the determination to physically reopen on October 4 was due to political expediency and not for the benefit of students. This action is devoid of careful forethought and reasonableness. As the issue of the “new normal" unfolds in the education system it is becoming increasingly obvious that constructive consultation with stakeholders and democracy are things of the past. This is being exacerbated further as an expansion of that decision.
Secondly, TTUTA is of the view that the State is taking a calculated risk in terms of placing students in schools. The union views this move not as one to enhance education but more as an action to push people to get vaccinated. Education professionals are being blatantly used as pawns to bait vaccine uptake. Moreover, this unilateral imposition by the State has now been unfairly rested on the shoulders of school principals to develop and execute an action plan within the parameters of this dictatorial policy.
Educators have given their lives for the past 18 months, not just work hours, to educating the nation's children. To now be placed in a predicament whereby their offerings will be further strained by having them in school juggling students in virtual and physical classes is absolutely appalling.
TTUTA emphasises that infrastructural, resource and staffing issues must be addressed as part of the systematic plan to reopen schools. Additionally, schools must be able to safely implement the relevant covid19 protocols. Since funding for our secondary schools has been extremely restricted over the past 18 months, TTUTA affirms that the Ministry of Education has full responsibility for ensuring that the school facilities are in proper order for repopulation. This should not be a “headache” which school principals are left to address on their own.