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Yesterday’s decision by the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) and National Primary Schools Principals’ Association (NAPSPA) to boycott a meeting with Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly on the reopening of schools, has the potential to derail the ministry’s plan to resume physical classes come September 6 when the new academic year begins.

During a virtual media conference, both TTUTA president Antonia Tekah Defreitas and NAPSPA boss Carlene Hayes cited the disrespect shown by the ministry ahead of the meeting as the reason for their boycott. More importantly, both cited the fact that a draft proposal on the reopening, a 51-page document, was only presented to them last Friday. Furthermore, they claimed not to have been consulted ahead of the document’s preparation.

The angst of these two main stakeholders in the education system is understandable. However, given the climate in which society has been forced to operate due to COVID-19, would it also not have been wiser for the two officials to still have attended the meeting, even if only to indicate their issues and call for another session instead of a public dress down in the first instance? Luckily, other stakeholders attended the meeting to offer their contributions to the process.

Few citizens can counter the argument that the lack of physical class time has seriously retarded most children’s ability to learn holistically. That lack of face-to-face interaction with not only teachers but classmates has significantly contributed to this developing woe. Education experts and stakeholders are suggesting that society will not see the repercussions of the current situation until five to 10 years from now and that it will not be positive either.

It is clear that TTUTA and NAPSPA have issues with the existing document and want to meet the Minister at the table. Having said that, it is highly unlikely that whatever plan the Ministry of Education comes up with for what will be a perpetual hybrid learning system, will be satisfactory to all its stakeholders — nor do we expect it to.

However, Minister Gadsby-Dolly needs to ensure that she opens up the process to as much dialogue as possible from all of the key stakeholders. There is time in which to do it as well, given that the school is now out on vacation.

Also, with the scheduled arrival of another batch of 800,000 Sinopharm vaccines today, the promise of more later this month and a more aggressive vaccination drive by the Government, T&T should be closer to achieving the herd immunity by September if all goes as planned by the Ministry of Health.

It is likely then, that the education stakeholders may be a little more amenable to some recommendations once they are satisfied the infrastructure is also in place to achieve certain health and safety mandates. But even then, the onus will still be on the population to exhibit the discipline required to follow the health protocols to keep COVID-19 away.

Ultimately, however, all education stakeholders must be at the table to undertake a mature approach to the process, or else we will not be able to achieve the intended goal of ensuring no child is left behind.