THE TT Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) has said its recent response to requests made by the Education Ministry was not “combative” as claimed by Education Minister Anthony Garcia.
On Thursday, the ministry issued a letter to primary and secondary school teachers and principals. It was described as a “data collection exercise” and included a link to an online survey.
It said the purpose was to “determine the extent to which students had access to learning materials while school was closed due to covid19.”
All responses are required to be submitted by April 16.
The survey included basic questions such as the name of the school, school level (primary or secondary), etc. But it also asked the question, “Did you engage in any teaching or instructional activity due to the period March 16 to April 3?”
Some teachers told Newsday this worried many who had no internet or computer access at home, as it appeared having classes during that time was mandatory. But it isn’t.
This led to TTUTA issuing a release, also on Thursday, stating the union was aware of the letter and advised all members that such a demand was “spurious” and “unreasonable.”
It noted that any initiatives taken by teachers during that time period were solely voluntary as school was closed.
It added that there is no requirement for teachers to use their personal devices to teach from home.
Garcia then issued a release on Good Friday (April 10). He thanked teachers for their dedication to the students as many have been facilitating work from home, but added, “Now is not the time for any of us to be combative. Our country, like many others, has been thrust into a state of uncertainty and as we figure out how best we can preserve the access to education for all students, we will need the support of our teachers, principals, parents and all stakeholders in education to achieve this goal.”
Speaking with Newsday on Saturday morning, TTUTA president Antonia De Freitas said she was simply advising the association’s members to be careful.
“It is not mandatory, there has been no discussion about what the data would be used for. And the survey is an open one so any of the members of the public can access it, so that is a bit disconcerting.”
She said she has a responsibility to protect her members.
Asked about the minister’s use of the word combative, she said that was not her intention.
“It was advice to our members as we, as a responsible union, should do. There’s nothing that is personal to anyone in the Ministry of Education. If that’s how the ministry sees it, then…”
She said TTUTA will meet with Garcia on Wednesday.
Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools president Roland Mootoo told Newsday, “It seems the ministry is saying TTUTA is telling teachers not to comply.”
But he said he knows that was not the case. Regardless, he said his association will continue to follow the directions of the ministry.
“For TTUTA to put out and communicate like that, we are wondering how much conversation the ministry has had with TTUTA. They certainly didn’t have any with the principals’ association. So we are not sure what ‘combative’ stance they imagine TTUTA is taking.
“The resources to reach students online may not be available either to teachers or to students, so to survey teachers’ ability to reach students like that is a little bit premature and not well-thought-out.”
Primary Schools’ Principals Association president Lance Mottley also shared his views on the matter in a press release on Saturday.
He said he understands that these are not normal times because of the pandemic, “so adjustments to the way we do business” must be made. But he said many principals and teachers had already put things in place to work, remotely, with students even before the ministry’s suggestions.
“This noble act speaks to the level of commitment and dedication to education by our teaching fraternity, but most of all, a recognition and understanding that these are unusual circumstances that require all hands on deck,” he said.
But he described the ministry’s tone and choice of words as “harsh” and “condescending,” adding that it does not “sit well with our teaching professionals.”
“Further, the instructions from the ministry generally tend to lack context of purpose: Principals and teachers would react more positively if the purpose of these ‘requests’ is stated upfront. It appears that it is only when there is resistance that the Ministry of Education sees it fit to provide context, but of course, not without threats. We condemn this attitude strongly and reject it outright.”
He said there may be some “high-ranking officials” who consider principals and teachers to be on the lower end of the hierarchy and are not required to be consulted. But he said that line of thinking is arrogant and will only cause division.
“In going forward, the association is recommending that the Ministry of Education softens its tone, consult as far as is possible with all major stakeholders in education, and stop threatening principals and teachers.”
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