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The concerns raised by the teachers through their representative, the Guyana Teachers Union, (GTU) that have resulted in a strike are legitimate and should be addressed as a matter of urgency. Yesterday the teachers started strike action which is expected to initially run for three days, i.e. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The issues raised by the Union include the COVID-19 vaccine. Leaders have been making it clear that they are not opposed to vaccination and are encouraging those who want to take the vaccine to do so, but they are against what they considered denying persons the right to choice. The Union is also calling on the government to pay for COVID-19 testing for those who do not want to take the vaccine.
For some time now GTU has been raising the issue of safety and health measures for teachers and students to return to in-classroom learning. It has been observed other CARICOM countries have been using either a hybrid approach (in-class and remote learning) or remote learning. Why Guyana hasn’t followed suit is still to be made publicly known by the Ministry.
The Union has proposed to the Ministry of Education a menu of measures where teaching could be done remotely. One such is the ministry partnering with the telephone companies to provide a special data package for teachers and students to access online learning. They have also requested teachers be given computers. It is a shame that in 2021 each teacher has not been given a laptop by the Ministry to do their work. The demand for salary increase, which has not been paid to teachers in 2020 and 2021, is too being made.
These demands are reasonable and should be addressed between the Union and Ministry. It need not have reached the stage of strike were the government accepting that ultimately they have a responsibility to ensure not only the teachers are in a safe and healthy environment to teach but the environment is also conducive, safe and healthy for our children to learn.
Yesterday, General Secretary of the Union, Coretta McDonald, in her programme “Advancing the Cause’ listed a number of primary schools that will have to be closed and students returned to remote learning, due to COVID-19 infections.
The reality will force many to either ask or conclude the Ministry of Education has prematurely allowed teachers and students to return to the classroom. The fact also gives more currency to the Union’s demands for these are not only just but also fair.
Whilst the government, notably the Minister of Education Priya Manickchand, seems inclined to refer to the strike as political and not address the causes that led to the strike, doing the rounds on social media are comments made by the leaders of the government when they were in opposition. The government should have expected their words will either come back to haunt them or serve as a reminder to them.
In 2018 when the teachers took strike action against the A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) government, leaders of the then opposition, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) were loud in support for the teachers and called on the APNU+AFC government to meet with the teachers and negotiate their demands. They also stated the 2018 strike was not political. Among the vocal ones were Manickchand and Bharrat Jagdeo
Our teachers are vital to the country’s development. As teachers strike in 2018 was said not to be political given what the teachers were asking for, in 2021 it cannot be so deemed given what they are presently demanding. The relevant authorities in the Ministry of Education should meet with the Union soonest and address their concerns.