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On Monday schools across Guyana will be opened for the new academic year (2022-2023). Teachers, the moulders of the nation’s minds, will be returning to classroom enthusiastics to greet their wards (students) but frustrated the government continues to ignore their entreaty for increased pay and improved working conditions.
This year will see teachers having to take care of their wards in an environment of two global health concerns- COVID-19 and the monkey pox. Whilst COVID-19 is a pandemic, and monkey pox is a global health emergency as declared by the World Health Organisation, both viruses are communicable and can spread through close and physical contact.
Guyana Teachers Union, General Secretary, Ms. Coretta Mc Donald in conversations with Village Voice said teachers are not only being challenged to take care of themselves but they are equally being challenged to take care of their young charges and keep them safe, as the whole notion of safety in the school environment has to be constantly revisited.
Closure of schools and online learning during the pandemic have also resulted in learning loss.
In a June, 2022 report, Jean Gough, United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF’s) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, pointed out “Latin America and the Caribbean has already lost more than ten years of learning progress due to two years of COVID-19 school closures. The education catastrophe is still going on, day after day.”
Earlier this year the Ministry of Education said it was going to devise a strategy to address the loss.
In June, Mr. Ed Phillips sought to give assurance the EdYou FM radio station would address the education deficit. According to him the Ministry of Education was supposed to be “working on providing a kind of catch-up or a boost (programme)” during the July/August break “to help to bring children up to speed.”
On the eve of reopening McDonald is saying no comprehensive system has been put in place to address learning lost. Instead, teachers are having to deal with a consolidated curriculum that they don’t understand.
Teachers are frustrated that the concerns for their students are not being addressed. Andrew Dhanraj, a primary school teacher, has taken to his social media (Facebook) to share such concerns. These concerns include, among other things, having to deal with a soft copy (electronic) format of a lesson plan to work with instead of hard (paper) copy that could be used to prepare a lesson plan.
They are also being given old lesson plans to prepare new copies when the two are not of similar nature. As of Thursday, three days before re-opening, teachers are complaining they have not received their Lesson Plan. Teachers further shared that they don’t know their way forward on the new lesson plan. The situation is being deemed “crazy” as frustration was expressed teachers are not being empowered to deliver effectively and efficiently in the classrooms
Turning attention to the child-friendly classroom policy, the expectation to bring the classroom into compliance seems to be more a financial burden on the teachers, not a responsibility of the ministry. Teachers are asking how can they, on their small salary, provide aids to teach, and also take care of their own personal expenses.
The dysfunction elicited the view that teachers are being treated as “nobody.”
Teachers are returning to work without being paid their uniform allowance for the year, that is almost at an end. Some are returning to work in buildings that are still under repairs, putting at risk their and the children’s safety. Where cleaning supplies were provided these are miniscule compared to the classrooms and building size.
McDonald, responding to the concerns, in a post, said the situation will not improve if teachers continue to sit idly by and not sound their voices. Pointing out, as a united body teachers will have to arrive at some serious decisions in order to fix the system, to regain respect and get persons in authority to act when teachers speak, she called for a collective approach to address their concerns.
Two years with no negotiation
Since 2020, the Teachers Union has submitted its proposals to the Ministry of Education to begin negotiations for increased salary and improved working conditions. Some of these relate to:-
· the reopening of schools for face to face classes
· online Classes
· support for schools, teachers, learners
· follow up and evaluation
· backlog in the agreement that have not been honoured
· outstanding Certificates to teachers who have been trained five (5) years and over
· regularising of the differences in teachers’ salaries
· new salary proposal
These recommendations, which are now at the Office of the President (OP), are still to be discussed with the teachers who are tasked with the responsibility for educating the nation’s children for self-development and nation building. Mc Donald said the repeated follow-up letters to OP are always met with a response, that when the government is ready they will inform the Union.