-by Svetlana Marshall-
With additional teachers taking up their sick days and emergency leave as part of a protest to press the Government to begin salary negotiations, Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand today expressed concern that the nation’s children could lose critical hours of learning as many teachers withhold their service.
“So, we are just coming out of a COVID period where we are seeing very forcefully, the effects of children staying home and being without instruction. So, anyone, who asks children to go without education is someone without a conscience. There are very many different ways to resolve issues, and I am hoping that the various bodies and individuals will address their minds to those consequences. Anytime a child goes without teaching, I am concerned,” Minister Manickchand told reporters.
Today marked the fourth school day since hundreds of teachers have been staying away from school in batches, as part of an attempt to force the Government to begin the negotiations on a proposed multi-year agreement, which was submitted more than three years ago.
The proposal addresses 13 critical areas, including issues related to salaries, gratuity, duty free concession, hinterland benefits and grants.
Minister Manickchand said contrary to statements from some union officials, the Education Ministry has been responding to the needs of the teachers.
“We are around giving out, right now, grants to schools, so that teachers have autonomy in their classrooms, and teachers get to independently supply to those classrooms, whatever they say and need, to take teaching and learning further. We have given text books to all of our primary and secondary school children or are in the process of giving those text books, that makes a teacher’s life much, much easier,” she pointed out.
But President of the Guyana Teachers’ Union, Mark Lyte said the piecemeal approach to the multi-year-proposal is not good enough.
He said the important issue of salaries, remains outstanding, and the teachers will continue to utilize various concessions to remain at home, until their demands are met.
Lyte told News Source today that it is clear that the issue is now out of the hands of the Ministry of Education, and must be addressed by the President.
“We have not been contacted since teachers have been showing for the last four to five days that they are willing to support a full fledge industrial action if called upon. But we have had no response coming from the Government side,” the GTU President said.
President Irfaan Ali indicated recently that he will engage teachers directly on the issues confronting them.
Lyte said until that time, teachers will continue to report absent.
He rubbished statements by the Education Minister that suggested that those withholding their services have little regard for the learning loss children may experience.
“I wouldn’t get into a banter in the public with the Government officials but I would say that there is a dire need for our teachers to be paid a proper salary and this is known by our government officials and the sooner they realise that teachers are prepared to withhold their services, the better it would be for us. The sooner they are able to address the concerns of our teachers, the better it will be for us as a nation,” he said.
He said there will be no learning loss if the Government swiftly addresses the concerns of teachers.
According to Lyte, in the Lower Corentyne, 65% of the teachers there were absent on Thursday, while 71.1% of the teachers on the Upper East Bank of Demerara did not show up for school on Friday.
On Monday, 38% of the teachers on the Lower East Bank were a no show, while in Central Corentyne more than 61% of them were absent today.