– in spite of union’s call to boycott reopening of schools
By Gabriella Chapman
SOME teachers from several primary and secondary schools around Georgetown on Monday started the process of preparing their classrooms to reflect the health ordinance that will ensure their and their charges safety from the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Their position is in keeping with a Ministry of Education decision to have those pupils preparing to sit the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) examinations, as well as those students who’re about to do the same at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) return to school to work with their teachers in a face-to-face classroom environment.
The NGSA has been set for July 1 and 2, 2020, while the CSEC and CAPE will begin on July 13, 2020.
With both pupils and students expected to be out from next Monday (June 15), teachers and auxiliary staff will be using the extra week to lay the groundwork for when classes begin in earnest, a decision that the Guyana Teacher’s Union (GTU) is fiercely opposed to.
In a press statement on Monday, the Union said: “The General Council of the Guyana Teachers’ Union decided not to support the Ministry of Education’s plan to conduct classes and examinations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision was based on the fact that Guyana’s situation remains fluid. Positive cases of Coronavirus are still being recorded, and this poses a threat to the well-being of all Guyanese whose desire is to remain healthy.
“To this end, teachers are advised to remain in the safety of their homes, and continue to give virtual support to learners as they finalise their preparations for their respective examination. There should be no sense of guilt felt by any teacher, since the Union’s recommendations to have these examinations written at a later date fell on deaf ears.”
Assuring its members that they had nothing to fear, as any attempt at victimization will be resisted in the strongest possible way, the GTU said: “Your union will fight to uphold the right to life for every member. We urge that you remain safe, and continue to follow the health protocols established by the WHO, and supported by Ministry of Public Health here in Guyana.”
When this publication met and spoke with several teachers in Georgetown, which is reportedly the epicenter of the virus, they all said that they will stand with the Ministry in this situation, because of the commitment they have to the future of Guyana’s children.
Asking to withhold their names and place of work, they told the Guyana Chronicle how they feel about the division, and their stance in the situation.
ONLY TO BE EXPECTED
Said one teacher: “It is expected that some will resist the decision of the Ministry, because, quite frankly, they are comfortable with not having to come out to work every day. While some may resist because they are genuinely concerned about their health, there are others who honestly just want to stay home. There are people out there working in the face of worse circumstances than us; why can’t we come out for our students for a few weeks, at this critical time in their lives? These students need us; all we need to do is ensure we follow the guidelines, and we will be safe, and that is what I have decided to do.”
Another said that there are teachers who are at this time going out of their homes, exposing themselves to the virus for far less than educating the nation’s children.
“So I don’t see what the issue is,” she said, adding: “Some teachers are just complacent, and it is sad. And while some are talking about virtual classes and all that, some of them aren’t even doing that. Let us come out for our children, and stay safe by following health orders. My only concern is if the Ministry will hold up their end of the Order and ensure we have all the necessities to stay safe. Once we have that, we will be here for our children.”
One school board’s chair said that he was happy at the teacher turnout at their school to prepare for the return of the students. He noted, too, that the school has a close-knit bond among teachers and students, so resistance wasn’t really expected. The teachers’ energies right now, he said, are being directed to preparing for their safety, and the safety of the students.
Several other teachers were engaged from different schools, and they all expressed similar sentiments as those we’d spoken to earlier
And while all this is reassuring, the one question on everyone’s mind is: Will the pupils and students actually come out to classes next week, since the Ministry didn’t make it mandatory.
QUESTION OF AFFORDABILITY
As one teacher pointed out, she is more concerned about whether some parents can afford to send their children out to school, as they may have been affected financially due to the loss of income due to the pandemic.
The teachers said despite the situation, they are preparing, and from Monday, when the children are expected to come, they will be able to do a better assessment, and know what additional measures have to be put in place to help them.
The Gazetted Order from the Ministry states: “To prepare for national examinations, face-to-face contact between teachers and students is permitted at their respective schools, but classes shall not be held every day.
“The seating arrangements for classes and the national examinations shall permit only 15 learners in each classroom or examination room at a time, sitting at least six feet apart from each other.
“To control and prevent the spread of COVID-19, several measures shall be implemented by a designated responsible entity or person.
“Regarding preparatory measures, the Ministry of Education shall be responsible for ensuring that all schools have appropriate sanitation stations, including adequate water and soap, and bins with covers.”
According to the Ministry, stringent monitoring should be conducted to ensure that the appropriate infrastructure is implemented prior to the commencement of classes.
Meanwhile, head-teachers will be responsible for ensuring that all schools in use have a designated sickbay or quarantine area that is well ventilated. The area must be equipped with a bed, first aid kit and personal protective gear (i.e. mask and gloves) to accommodate any learner that is suspected to be exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, until emergency assistance arrives.
These guidelines have already begun to materialise at several schools, and many teachers, despite the position of the Union, said that they will be putting the interest of their students first.