Paruima teachers told to produce COVID-19 vaccination card, negative PCR test or stay home without pay

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The Regional Education Office in Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) has reportedly warned teachers in Paruima that they too will be barred from entering the school’s compound in the coming week, if they are unable to produce their COVID-19 vaccination cards or negative
PCR test results. Absenteeism, the Office further warned, will result in cut to their salaries – a situation one teacher described as unfair given the peculiarities of villages such as Paruima.

Village Voice News understands that the notification was issued on Wednesday, October 13 to both the Paruima Nursey and Primary Schools’ teachers. According to a teacher, who hails from the Amerindian Settlement, the Paruima Primary School has eight teachers, however,
only one has been vaccinated while the two teachers attached to the Paruima Nursery School are unvaccinated.

“Teachers in the village were instructed not to report to work if they are not vaccinated. The village is situated next to the Venezuela border, so it is difficult to get a negative PCR test. The teachers are concerned that they will not be paid this month because of
that,” one teacher told this newspaper.

It was explained that while the PCR test was provided as an alternative to the COVID-19 vaccine, in far flung villages, such as Paruima, it is not necessarily a viable option, since the nearest testing site is located in the capital city – Georgetown.

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The existing COVID-19 Emergency Measures require all citizens including teachers to show proof of vaccination against COVID in an effort to gain access to public buildings including schools, however, the concerned teacher told Village Voice News that the approached
taken by the Education Ministry on the coast and in other urban areas, cannot be the same approach applied to hinterland villages.

“Their concern is that the Education Ministry should not treat schools in villages like Paruima the same way they are treating schools on the coast because we don’t have the same resources, and in Georgetown it is understood that it is congested and the risk of contracting
the virus is high compared to the villages in the interior where because of their location, the villages are secluded,” the teacher reasoned.

While acknowledging the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine in the fight to combat the pandemic, the teacher said residents of Paruima are hesitant to take the vaccine due to misinformation. According to the teacher, while Guyanese on the Coast has easy access to
information on the vaccines, the residents of Paruima due to the lack of internet access, do not. Notably while there is an ICT hub, the teacher said only a few persons benefit from it.

“The teachers are willing to work, they have been working throughout the pandemic and they should be allowed to do so now,” the teacher posited.

When
approached by Village Voice News on the matter, Minister of Education Priya Manickchand said: “I believe there are safe ways, especially in places like Paruima that we can engage our children academically and those would be pursued.”

She, nonetheless, used the opportunity to encourage the nation’s teachers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. “We are pleading with teachers to get vaccinated,” Minister Manickchand said while noting that the number of teachers, who have been vaccinated, has increased
from 23 per cent. While noting that the data is still being collected, Minister Manickchand said in some regions 80 per cent of the teachers have been vaccinated while in others 70 per cent, and high 60s. However, she admitted that some teachers are still
hesitant.

The Education Minister said too that her Ministry is cognizant of the added challenges faced by schools in the hinterland during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

“Mixed system is something that sounds very nice when we are out here on the coast with our buffering internet; mixed system when you go to somewhere like Paruima where we don’t even have phone signal is a whole different story, so we don’t have any mixed system
in many, many of the hinterland villages; it’s either you are in front of the teacher or you are both disengaged,” Minister Manickchand told this newspaper.

Notwithstanding the challenges, she said the Education Ministry ensured that every child was equipped with his or text books. She’s hoping that before the end of the year, more children have access to the Education Channel.

“Before the end of this year, we hope that every single Amerindian Village will have the learning channel which is what we are in the process of installing,” the Education Minister said.

Minister Manickchand said while a lot of interventions were made since the start of the pandemic, there is tremendous value in a trained teacher standing in front of a classroom.



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