Talks between the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) to discuss a number of pertinent issues, came to abrupt end yesterday soon after TTUTA resisted a proposal to extend the school term by one week for teachers alone.
TTUTA President Antonia Tekah-De Freitas spoke to Guardian Media after the 8 am meeting ended at 9.20 am.
Indicating TTUTA was in support of the five-week closure which was extended to include the two-week Easter vacation period, Tekah-De Freitas said, “We are satisfied the State and the Ministry acted prudently in terms of closing schools for the period they did, to minimize the community spread. That is not an issue.”
She said, “When the Minister began speaking about the possible postponement of SEA into the new term, possibly into May, that too was acceptable to TTUTA.
“We do believe that given the fact, there will be need for some readiness and preparation to be done when school reopens on April 20 and that kind of postponement is feasible.”
She said in years gone by, the administration of the SEA exam has been done in May so there is no issue regarding the readiness of students for secondary school.
Tekah-De Freitas said, “Our issue arose when the Minister began to talk about an extension of the term, not to do anything with the students per say, but because the teachers were out.”
“So with teachers being out essentially for five weeks, it appears as if the ministry was not prepared that they should be out for five weeks and they were trying to take back the time they sent us out for.”
The fired-up TTUTA president said, “We did not put ourselves on this leave, we didn’t shut down schools. It appears the ministry was trying to take back that time and therefore, a proposition was put to TTUTA for the term to be extended by one week during which time the teachers would come out. It was not clear whether or not students would be coming out during that one week.”
Tekah-De Freitas said when they pressed to the MOE to say why, “We were simply told in the interest of education.”
Asked when the additional week was being proposed for, she said, “We didn’t even get that far because when TTUTA said we cannot accept such a proposition because there has to be discussions and negotiations with our members, the Minister ended the meeting.”
Referring to the suggestion as an imposition as opposed to a proposition, Tekah-De Freitas said, “The Minister could not even identify the dates when they wanted to do that action.”
Asked if TTUTA was opposed to the extension of time generally as valuable teaching and learning time was being lost, Tekah-De Freitas said discussions would need to be held with its’ membership before undertaking such a commitment.
However, she stressed, “You cannot impose a penalty on teachers because we did not send ourselves out of school.”
Minutes after indicating their unwillingness to entertain further discussions along these lines, Tekah-De Freitas said Garcia ended the meeting which meant no definitive decisions had been made regarding SEA.
Indicating that teachers remained committed to their charges as many persons were using social media to upload links and sites for students to access online classes to ensure learning continuity, Tekah-De Freitas said, “Secondary school teachers are particularly concerned about the marks for CSEC subjects that would have already been moderated and the submission of those marks, so they are going to be working from home on that also.”
“It is not to say teachers have downed tools and dropped everything. Our teachers continue to interact with students without being asked. The only thing is that they are not physically present at the plant.”
Urging members to continue to observe strict hygiene procedures, Tekah-De Freitas said, “What we want from CXC right now is the deadlines for the submission of CSEC marks extended, because the current structure is one where CXC imposes a penalty for the late submission of marks but this is not something that is anyone’s fault and it is affecting other countries in the region.”
She called for CXC to waive those late fees in the first instance and also push back the deadline for submission of marks for CSEC students which is usually done during the end of March into early April.
TTUTA said they stand ready to meet with the ministry whenever they indicate.
Attempts to reach Garcia for a response proved futile.