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TTUTA President Antonia Tekah-De Freitas address members of the media during JTUM’s press conference on Friday.

RADHICA DE SILVA

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Accusing the Government of using children as political pawns, T&T Unified Teachers’ Association president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas yesterday rejected proposed stipends for Fifth Standard teachers and the August 20 date for the Secondary Entrance Assessment exams.

Speaking at a press conference at the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union’s Paramount headquarters in San Fernando, Tekah-De Freitas said the general council met on Tuesday and took a decision that the August examination was not in the best interest of teachers, students or the schools.

As such, she said TTUTA has directed all members to refuse Government’s stipend offer to come out to work during the July and August vacation to facilitate the August 20 exam date.

In announcing the SEA date earlier this week, Education Minister Anthony Garcia said Standard Five teachers would receive a daily stipend, ranging from 400 to as much as $900 for principals, to come out during the July/August vacation period.

Tekah-De Freitas noted that while some teachers may be enticed by the stipend, she was sure the membership will heed the call to reject the offer. She said TTUTA had told the Ministry of Education that an August date was too soon for the exam.

“We indicated that psycho-social counselling has to be done to prepare the students, as well as education about social distancing. We indicated that a date in October will be better but the ministry went ahead and announced that the SEA will be held on August 20. This was totally insulting and disrespectful,” she said.

She added that the stipend was meant to divide teachers.

“TTUTA maintains that notwithstanding that carrot dangled to divide teachers and members, it is not in the interest of education professionals. The general council has rejected it. One week before Labour day the government is dangling these inducements,” she said.

She added, “You have outstanding salary negotiations to be paid, you have teachers’ arrears of increments, you have an upgrade of teachers from 2013, benefits to pay retirees. You couldn’t find the money for any of these things but you find the money for inducements. TTUTA is saying no, it’s not good enough. We have given advice so please respect us. Do the exam in October.”

Tekah-De Freitas explained that children were also not ready for SEA as many of them had no access to online classes and electronic devices when schools were shuttered in the last week of March due to COVID-19. She said TTUTA was committed not only to its members but the children who are in the care of the teaching fraternity.

“When we closed we had remote teaching going on. Not all children have been engaged. It is not going to be in the best interest of all children to do SEA in this rushed context,” Tekah-De Freitas said.

“When we have social distancing, how are you going to spread that count across the school building and still ensure adequate supervision? We have issues about the transport of students, issues of school feeding.”

She also said the July-August period is usually the time when school repairs are going on.

“If they populate schools with primary and CXC students, when will the vacation repairs be done? Are we to expect that in September we will have schools with infrastructure challenges still?” she asked.