T&T Uni­fied Teach­ers' As­so­ci­a­tion sec­ond vice-pres­i­dent Kyr­la Robert­son-Thomas.

Unpredictable weather, unexpected power outages and other contingencies are more reasons why the Government requires comprehensive planning and consultation with stakeholders in its resumption of online delivery of school curricula and possible introduction of a parallel system of classes to students in this country, says TTUTA Second Vice President Kyrla Robertson-Thomas.

Speaking to Sunday Guardian on Friday in the aftermath of heavy rains and wind gusts which caused power outages and fallen trees in some areas, Robertson-Thomas said the Association did not wish to appear to oppose finding solutions in these times of world crisis. She, however, stressed that the Ministry of Education (MOE) must engage stakeholders in careful planning, organisation and arrangement of classes under a continuing online system, and a proposed parallel education system where classes would be conducted virtually and face-to-face at the same time.

“Online is new to teachers, it’s new to students, it’s new to parents in a number of fields. It’s not as if we’ve been practising this modality. We are working with our teachers. TTUTA would have had some workshops last year to get them to understand online classes, online evaluation.

“We still do have quite a number of students who don’t have internet or even like today, based on what happened with the weather last night (Thursday) into this morning, we are going into a meeting right now and I have two officers who have to use their phones and their limited data and power because they are without electricity. These are some of the things that happen with online classes. You could have the best lesson planned,” she said.

On August 26, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley hinted at a parallel education system if sufficient numbers of students did not vaccinate.

As far as seeking to establish parallel classes, especially in the short term, she reiterated that it would be “problematic”. She said internet connectivity as well as timetabling would be challenging for secondary schools who already face problems in organising schedules.

“As to whether our schools are equipped for introducing and sustaining this, at this point we do not think that the schools are able to do this. Timetabling would be an issue. We have a number of schools that are not equipped for online transmitting because there is poor bandwidth or no bandwidth at all. So there are a number of things that still need to be ironed out with the Ministry.”

Social distancing would also require tremendous effort, she said.

“If you have to keep the public health regulations of six feet by six feet, most of our classrooms are not built for that so if you have a class of 30 children, you may find that the standard classroom may be able to accommodate safely, eight or nine students. The others would have to be spaced out into other rooms. Are they to be on the school compound or come out on other days, as they (the MOE) were suggesting in their draft?” she asked.

She said with the spreading out of students as prescribed by social distancing regulations, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gatsby-Dolly had suggested that there would be substitute teachers to provide supervision.

“…but substitute supervision is not (educational) instruction she said. Those things have to be worked out.

“Can a teacher stay in one room, because many of our schools do not have partitions and give instructions here and in the next few minutes, move to the next room to do that? Those are the things that we have to look at and see whether they can work seamlessly in terms of how we can get the best out of the education system now.”

Robertson-Thomas lamented that even in terms of parents collecting assignment packages prepared by teachers for some students who remain without internet access, many of the packages are yet to be picked up by the parents and given to the children.

According to Robertson-Thomas, these issues had negatively affected student performance since the pandemic hit and although the ministry had been monitoring students who had been most affected, the situation had to be urgently addressed.

“As I said to the media when the Prime Minister announced this vaccinated against unvaccinated which is going to be another issue, we reached out to the minister to ask when we could come to the table to see how we could work things out. By WhatsApp she indicated that that it will be done, so we are awaiting a formal invite to sit at the table with the ministry,” she said.

She said teachers reported for duty on Thursday and Friday as was the norm for the beginning of the September term when teachers would receive class assignments be assigned classes and plan classes school work with their respective administrations. Some reported back virtually, while others did so in person.

Robertson-Thomas said she was not aware of any issues with teachers being placed in uncomfortable conditions or situations as public health regulations were being followed by principals. She said large numbers of teachers were yet to receive the vaccine. Any teacher who did not report either virtually or in person would have to apply for the days.