HEADS of the denominational boards of education are fearing chaos and anger as thousands of children may be turned away from denominational-run primary schools come the new term in September.
Why? Because of an acute shortage of teachers which is being blamed on no hiring of new teachers by the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) since last October.
Education regulations dictate that there be a specific maximum number of students per teacher across the system. This ratio is one teacher to 30 students from Standards 1-5, and one teacher to 25 students in the infants department.
With such a shortage of teachers, there is the fear that children will have to be turned away when the catchment figure per class is reached.
Heads of the various denominational education boards met on Wednesday to address the critical teacher shortage and arrived at a consensus that if vacancies are not filled before the start of the new term, they would be unable to accept the usual intake for the new 2023/2024 academic year.
Present at the meeting were representatives from the Catholic, Presbyterian, Hindu (Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha), Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Muslim (Trinidad Muslim League) and Vedic schools.
Newsday spoke to representatives from the Catholic, the Maha Sabha and the Presbyterian boards who said since last October there have been no appointment of any new teachers.
Maha Sabha secretary general Vijay Maharaj told Newsday, with the crime rate soaring, it is critical that children are not denied an education.
He anticipates chaos at his schools, starting next Monday, when parents of infants seeking a place in the Maha Sabha's 43 primary schools, would be told whether their child has been accepted or not.
He said between July and December, 21 applicants were interviewed by the SDMS and referred to the ministry for interview, in alignment with the terms of the Concordat. Not one vacancy since has been filled.
“I have 11 absent teachers at present, and by September it would be 14, because three of them are resigning. I cannot take a full intake of infants by almost 200,” Maharaj said.
He is also fearful that parents, unaware of the reasons behind the denominational-run schools' inability to accept their children, could turn around and claim discrimination.
He said the Tunapuna Hindu primary school usual takes in about 100 new students annually, but because of the teacher shortage, this has been reduced to 75, and of that number, 32 from that school's pre-school must be accommodated, leaving space for only 43.
If the usual intake of 100 could have been met, the space for non-pre-school students coming in to this particular school would have been 68.
“I can only take 43 students from a three-mile radius and I already have 147 applications. This is not unique to me. It is right across the denominational education boards.
“What am I going to tell parents? They will vilify us, accuse us of discrimination, so I must speak out,” Maharaj said.
Chairman of the Presbyterian Primary Schools Board of Education Vickram Ramlal said no new teachers have been appointed to their schools since October.
“The TSC has stopped the recruitment process that the board has been using, what we consider settled practice (the Concordat) and instead, have instituted a new system which the board has not agreed to.”
Both the Presbyterian Board as well as the Maha Sabha are pursuing litigation in this matter.
Ramlal said there are 40 vacancies to be filled among the 72 Presbyterian primary schools. This coupled with teachers attending workshops and seminars, on sick leave, or on covid quarantine, means there is a critical teaching shortage across Presbyterian schools. “We have a real crisis on our hands,” Ramlal said.
“We cannot ask our principals to take students when there are not enough teachers available. There is a prescribed, standard teacher-student ratio.
"If we combine classes, then we would be asking teachers to teach above the pupil-teacher ratio as agreed to by the ministry and TTUTA.”
CEO of the Catholic Education Board Sharon Mangroo said their estimated shortfall at present is 65 teachers from among their 118 primary schools. She said that figure could increase by September.
“We are being positive in our outlook. Parents would be advised about which applications have been successful, but you have until September to receive children.
“We are hopeful by September this issue would be resolved and teachers would be appointed," she said.
She said the TSC, chaired by former school principal Elizabeth Crouch, has accepted a proposal from the Catholic Board of Education.
“That means they are willing to talk. We are looking forward to maybe some further communication so maybe we could negotiate an arrangement, one that meets the requirements of the board for ensuring the preservation and character of our schools and at the same time, meet the requirements of the ministry and the TSC.”
While calls to TSC chairman Crouch were not answered, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, replying via a text message, said both the commission and her ministry will meet next week to review the interview process.
“The recruitment of teachers is the responsibility of the TSC, which has delegated some functions to the ministry.
"The vacant positions in denominational schools were advertised in January 2023, applicants have been reviewed by the (denominational) boards and the boards' recommendations have been sent to the ministry and the TSC.
“The TSC is meeting with the ministry next week to review the interview process, and once approved, interviews will begin. Boards were advised in January that as an interim measure, they could choose suitable persons from the existing Order of Merit List to fill vacancies temporarily, while the recruitment process is ongoing.
"The Order of Merit Listing is of persons who have been successfully recruited for teaching and are waiting to be placed at schools. That option is still available to the boards,” Gadsby-Dolly said.