A LARGE number of the country's teachers broke the law yesterday by defying Monday' injunction of the Industrial Court banning them from participating in any industrial action. A media release from the Education Ministry indicated that an overall average of 36 percent of primary and secondary school teachers stayed away from classes yesterday with absenteeism reaching as high as 65.7 percent among primary teachers in the district of Port-of-Spain and environs. This, we think, was a tragic episode in the history of education in Trinidad and Tobago.
Teachers, as we have said before, have every right to protest and demonstrate in their quest for higher salaries, but we must draw the line when their action not only breaks the law but holds the education of the nation's children to ransom. When TTUTA's general council called on teachers to stay home Tuesday and Friday this week for "rest and reflection" they must have known that such an action was likely to affect the national examinations for standards one and three primary school students which had been fixed for yesterday. In its release, the Ministry stated that all teachers appointed to supervise these examinations "were in the classrooms performing their duties." But reports from other sources reaching us say otherwise; that in some schools principals and other staff members had to get involved.
As a result of all of this, we must now ask the question, what message are teachers sending to the nation's children? Teachers, who are supposed to set the best possible examples for their charges, are now deliberately breaking the law, flouting the order of the Court, and ignoring their responsibilities by taking days off for "rest and reflection." The indiscipline and poor education standards in so many of our schools are indicators of the declining commitment and impact of our teachers; now added to their professional shortcomings we have teachers flouting the law and neglecting their duties because of their disgruntlement. And, just as distressing, we have TTUTA, the teachers' union, indulging in a transparent kind of hypocrisy by using all kinds of subterfuges to excuse or justify the illegal industrial action their protest has taken. To call on teachers to stay home on particular days for "rest and reflection" is fooling no one; teachers get enough vacation time to rest and reflect - on what we wonder? Certainly not on their performance.
And if the quantum of annual school holidays were not enough for this, their record of absenteeism gives them even more. When TTUTA calls on teachers to take sick leave on the same day, that happens to be another act of hypocrisy since the whole country knows that the union is taking industrial action. However, it is not for us to tell the union or teachers how to conduct their protest. We can only remind them of their status and their responsibilities and insist that whatever stategy they may adopt their activity would remain within the confines of the law. But even if, in their grievance, they decide to take illegal action by staying away from classes they should be honest enough to recognise it for what it is, industrial action, and to accept the consequences. Mr Oliver's fighting rhetoric has become revolutionary, the spirit of his union should also be the same.
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