No online classes as teachers begin virtual black out protest against ‘disrespect’

All laptops, tablets and cell phones used to conduct online classes daily will today remain off and disconnected as thousands of pre-school, primary and secondary school teachers embark on a day of rest and reflection.

The Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) has declared September 30 and October 5 as two full black-out days and advised parents and students that no online classes will be conducted on today, nor will class material be posted for students to complete.

The TTUTA president has declared that if teachers decided to rest “then there is nothing that anybody can say.”

In a social media communication disseminated to teachers and members following an emergency meeting last week, TTUTA discussed protests to be taken in response to several issues.

Chief among them was the alleged disrespect by the Ministry of Education (MOE) after officials “refused to discuss with TTUTA the way forward in reopening of schools safely.”

But not all teachers may be participating in staying offline.

The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) said it was unaware of this call to protest and in a memo advised teachers at SDMS run schools to report for duty as usual.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the resumption of physical classes for only vaccinated students in Forms Four to Six, on October 4.

Unvaccinated students are to remain at home, with their classes continuing virtually.

In the TTUTA message which was circulated among members of the teaching fraternity up to last evening, it was stated, “In light of these and many other issues, TTUTA has taken the decision to have a FULL BLACKOUT day TOMORROW Thursday 30 September AND Tuesday 5 October, 2021.”

“TTUTA is calling all Teachers to have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTACT WITH SCHOOL OR STUDENTS (Neither Synchronously nor Asynchronously).”

TTUTA urged teachers and members to keep the contents of the message within the fraternity. The union also reportedly said, “The Ministry of Education must be reminded that the Teaching Fraternity Creates and Drives the Rudder of Society that would steer our Country into the Future. Rest and Reflect and apply for the day AFTER and not before.”

TTUTA president – “no gratitude at all” for teachers

Defending her members against critics, TTUTA president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas said, “People have been saying and it is quite unfortunate, that teachers are at home and are just drawing a salary and not doing anything, and that is very, very unfair.”

She claimed teachers were one of the first groups that sprung into action after COVID-19 forced the closure of schools in March 2020. “This is when they used their own money and resources to buy devices and do packages to provide pastoral care for students, and that has persisted.”

Acknowledging efforts by the MOE and the Education Division, Tobago House of Assembly to provide devices to some teachers – she added, “By and large, persons have been operating out of their own pockets with of course, having to provide for their own families…and with the rising cost of living, it feels like there is no gratitude at all.”

Tekah-De Freitas said the Prime Minister would have been advised about the need for only Forms Five and Six students to attend physical classes to complete labs and workshops. However, the TTUTA president said he still decided to do otherwise.

“You have to demonstrate a level of willingness to collaborate with partners in this sector such as educational professionals and the union, and to respect the workers. So if teachers have decided that they need to rest, well then there is nothing that anybody can say. Everybody is entitled to take their rest at the time they feel most appropriate.”

Tekah-De Freitas said TTUTA highlighted logistical and time-tabling concerns regarding the move to reopen, during a recent meeting with the MOE.

She revealed the teachers and the union also had concerns

relating to the state of disrepair of some school labs; lack of resources for workshops; lack of staff in some schools to facilitate labs and workshops; the lack of teaching personnel in certain subject areas; and outstanding electrical and sewerage works at some schools that remained unattended during the COVID-19 closure which followed from March 2020.

TTUTA said other areas of concern highlighted also include the supposed disregard for their views by the MOE; the MOE’s refusal to start negotiations for teachers who continue to operate on 2012 salaries; vacancies in the teaching service and the increased expense for teachers who have to use their personal Wifi or internet service with no compensation.

Education Ministry silent

Meanwhile, Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly did not respond to questions about the planned “blackout” by teachers today and what contingency plans, if any, are in place.

The Minister only responded to questions about how many teachers who requested laptops to aid in conducting online classes were still without.

She said, “Further to the approximately 6,600 devices distributed to teachers, more are being given out. There were approximately 2,300 more teachers in line to receive devices based on information collected from schools.”

Regarding the physical reopening of schools on Monday, the Minister shared, “Principals are required to submit their school reopening plans and their methods to extend educational materials to those who are not at school physically. However, schools have the flexibility to make decisions on what is possible based on their individual circumstances. This will vary from school to school, subject to subject, and teacher to teacher.”