Three-year-old Kevan Osbourne Jr is seen during his first day of school at his Righteous Lane, Pinto Road, Arima home as the new school year resumed with online classes yesterday.

Some 97 per cent of primary school teachers and 95 per cent of secondary school teachers reported for duty yesterday, the first day of the new school year under new guidelines forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some did so virtually while others attended physically.

“By and large, most persons were able to engage for the first day of school with their principals,” T&T Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas told Guardian Media last evening.

But while most teachers were in attendance yesterday to start the planning process for teaching remotely during the new school term, most students did not start the learning process immediate as the bulk of that process is expected to start next week.

However, Tekah-De Freitas said she believes the Ministry of Education should have consulted with the union before making a final decision on reopening.

“Although the ministry’s initiatives are sound in the first instance and look good on the surface, there should have been discussion with TTUTA beforehand to look at how the policy issues would impact on certain terms and conditions with teachers,” Tekah-De Freitas said.

She admitted there was some confusion among teachers yesterday on whether they had to show up physically for school or could have attended virtually but union’s position was the latter.

Although the new school term officially started yesterday, guidelines from the Ministry of Education indicate that the first two weeks will be used for planning activities and orientation. Some schools who began their planning earlier did manage to start actual teaching of students yesterday.

Tekah-De Freitas, who is set to meet with the Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly tomorrow, said there is a lot that has to be addressed in the next 14 days. One such issue was time management for teachers.

“There must be a clear delineation between work time and family time, it must not be presumed that because the teachers are working remotely that they must sacrifice family time or time outside the school day to treat with school business,” she said.

Another issue highlighted by the union boss was plagiarism, noting teachers are required provide printed packages of learning material for those who cannot participate in the online environment once a week, which local book distributors and sellers are concerned about.

“This printed material, if it comes from locally-printed material, can open up teachers to facing charges like that,” she said.

Tekah-De Freitas said they are also concerned about how teachers will perform administrative duties during this period. She said teachers were training through the ministry on how to teach virtually and have been assisting others with online tools.

“Teachers are offering courses to teachers to support others who needed help with navigating the virtual environment,” she said.

Connectivity was also a concern for the president, who said some teachers in rural areas were unable to meet virtually yesterday because the internet did not work.

TTUTA represents over 11,000 of 15,000 teachers in the country. Schools have been closed physically since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The only exemption to this was for students who needed to sit the Secondary Entrance Assessment and Caribbean Examination Council exams in July and August.