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Two South East Port-of-Spain Secondary school students make their way home along Independence Square, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. TTUTA staged day two of Operation Blackout yesterday.

Yesterday’s call by the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) for a blackout by teachers was said to have been more successful than last week’s first day, after it attracted greater participation by denominational schools which reported a large teacher absenteeism in some areas.

Up to 4 pm yesterday, TTUTA president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas confirmed, “We have had 72 per cent support from our members.”

September 30 and October 5 were designated as Operation Blackout – two days of offline protest – by TTUTA. All educators were encouraged to stay offline, switch off/disconnect all devices including laptops, tablets and cell phones and rest and reflect during the two days.

And with World Teachers’ Day being celebrated globally yesterday, the TTUTA head said this show of solidarity signalled, “Support for education professionals to engage in meaningful contemplation on World Teachers’ Day.”

Saying the collective action was meant to send a message that enough is enough, she said, “The last time teachers received a salary increase was in 2013, and our members are not happy about the approach by the State to pay lip service and say thank you, while their actions say something differently.”

She underscored several issues affecting teachers, such as job security; outstanding incremental arrears and those who continue to utilise personal resources to organise students’ work. However, Tekah-De Freitas was unable to say what other action might be forthcoming, as she said feedback will have to be obtained from members before further directives are given.

Last week’s call for teachers to stay away attracted the most support from public government schools, as only 44 per cent of teachers had reported for duty. Yesterday’s call resulted in personnel from all denominational schools supporting.

Denominational school officials confirm ‘teachers stayed away’

Officials of the Anjuman Sunnat-ul-Jamaat Association (ASJA) were unable to say what percentage of their teachers stayed away, but confirmed some of them did. Chief Executive Officer of the Catholic Education Board of Management, Sharon Mangroo, reported, “In one school, we had 18 out 32 teachers absent. In another school, we had 33 out of 51 teachers absent. In another one, we had many students on the compound and we had to make sure we had teachers out to supervise them.”

Saying virtual classes would have continued as normal, she said, “Some members did participate.”

Mangroo agreed yesterday’s protest attracted a wider participation from teachers compared to last week, but added the occasion of World Teachers’ Day was usually a celebrated event in the past with the professional development of teachers being advanced.

“It is a day we usually recognise the work teachers have done, and given the past year and a half, teachers have done so much so, that they have become students themselves, as they have gone above and beyond what is normally done.”

Presbyterian Primary School Board president Vickram Ramlal said they had an absenteeism of around 70 per cent.

“But there were schools where 100 per cent of teachers were present, and there were schools where 100 per cent were absent. The principals were out though.”

He said absent teachers will have to apply for the day taken yesterday, which can be categorised as either sick or occasional leave.

Presbyterian Secondary School Board president Ashford Tambie said they had an average of 80 per cent absenteeism by teachers and the overall student population varied between 35 to 40 per cent attendance.

He said in one secondary school in San Fernando, two students turned up for classes and had to be sent back home.

Acting Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), Vijay Maharaj, confirmed that while a full compliment of teachers reported for duty at both the Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College and the Vishnu Boys’ Hindu College – there were teachers at both the primary and secondary levels who had stayed away.

At Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College, 200 students from Forms Five and Six turned up for classes, while the 24 teachers rostered for duty reported as normal.

He said, “We have five colleges and we had some pretty good turnouts…in excess of 65 per cent by both teachers and students.”

Admitting some primary school teachers would have treated yesterday as an asynchronous day and posted work for students to complete, he stressed, “No child was left unattended for the day.”

He said the SDMS had 43 primary schools under its purview, “Teachers are like second parents to their students.

“I am not denying there were teachers who would have participated in the action,” he said.

Maharaj also indicated that denominational schools had different operating principles from government schools, which is what has set them apart.

Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said yesterday that based on information collected by the ministry, 47 per cent of teachers reported to work at government schools across the country.