“All Ah We in This Together…”

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 20, 2020

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeAs a teacher, I was interested in the exchange between Anthony Garcia, the minister of education (MOE), and Antonia De Freitas, president of the TTUTA, with regard to how best to continue teaching our nation’s pupils while schools are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The MOE wanted to “determine the extent to which students had access to learning materials while schools were closed” (Newsday, April 11) so it could determine the best platform to deliver online teaching for our pupils.

De Freitas advised her members that such a demand was “spurious” and “unreasonable.” She insisted: “There is no request for teachers to use their personal devices to teach from home. She advised members that they are not required to account for work done during this period and cannot be mandated to do so” (Newsday, April 1).

Subsequently, the minister assured her that the government would continue to pay teachers “their full salaries during the period of closure” since teaching and learning were continuing online. The only hitch is that approximately 70,000 students do not have access to the internet and many teachers do not have computers.

Since the government continues to pay the salaries of these teachers they are still in the employ of the government which suggests that they are working, albeit from home, for their employers. De Freitas also suggests that the government must supply devices such as computers for teachers to work from home. Perhaps arrangement can be made for teachers to borrow computers from the government or the corporate sector to do their jobs?

When my school closed on March 16, we were asked to teach online. From March 16 to March 30, the college offered a few online classes to show us how to use the Zoom technology to teach our classes. We were all expected to continue our teaching online since we were being paid to do so. Most of us were happy to have a job since about 22 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits as of April 15.

I doubt that any of my colleagues called the college’s demands “spurious” or “unreasonable.” No one said that he was not using his personal devices to teach from home even though the college loaned a few computers to professors. We began to teach online on March 30.

Within a month, our college experienced a deficit of $5 to $6 million (US) in its operating budget. With the stock market falling—which eroded its budget substantially and our having to refund students a part of their tuition—the college announced a hiring freeze for faculty, and administrative and union positions, through December 2020.

The president took a voluntary salary reduction of 20% through December 2020. The provost and members of Senior Administration took a 15% reduction for the same period. One of the key principles that guided the college’s decision-making process was, in our president’s words: “We will act in the spirit of shared sacrifice and willingness to embrace change.”

The T&T government is generous. The minister announced government’s willingness to ensure that our teachers are being paid. Where is the money to come from? The government expects that this crisis will eat up about 10% of its GDP or $15 billion dollars. It has taken $1.5 billion (US) or $10 billion (TT) from the Heritage and Stabilization Fund, funds we have been putting away since 2007. We have borrowed about $200 million ($1 billion TT) from CAF (Latin American Development Bank) and lost about 2% of our GDP because of the decreased rents we will receive from our oil and gas products.

This enormous government expenditure is not sustainable although the government believes it is a “one-time thing.” I am not too sure this is a correct assumption.

Julie Turkewitz reported that last week in Bogota, Colombia, 40 children from the Wayuu, the country’s largest indigenous group, gathered before class started for their morning arepa, a traditional cornmeal pastry, stuffed with meat. It’s their only meal of the day. She continues: “But since Colombia went into quarantine and schools shut down two weeks ago, Josefa Garcia, a school administrator has not received any of these meals from the country’s ministry of education. Nor have the children.

“And many of the students, some of whom have watched their brothers and sisters die of malnutrition…are starting to worry about survival.

“Our fear is that if we don’t die of the virus,” said Ms. Garcia, 68, “we will die of hunger” (New York Times, April 10).

This is how bad things are in some countries but yet some of us are concerned only with our privileges and entitlements. This is why the example of our first responders is so exemplary. They continue to give their services unstintingly. This virus will change the world as we know it and how we construct our reality.

Our attitude seems to be: “We are all in this together but the government must pay.” Unless we understand that we are the government and all of us (even our children) will have to pay for whatever services we receive, we will not be ready to face the realities of a post-coronavirus era.

Pandemics and economic collapses tend to reorder societies. However, it is “in grappling with uncertainty, that we define our humanity” (Financial Times, April 11). Whatever happens, we must use this pandemic to reeducate ourselves about our community responsibilities.

One wishes devoutly that our teachers take the lead in this endeavor. Part of their responsibility is to “re-chart the ruin and piece it together in its beginning” (Trinidad Guardian, December 20, 2005) as Brother LeRoy Clarke says in his work.

4 thoughts on ““All Ah We in This Together…””

  1. “The only hitch is that approximately 70,000 students do not have access to the internet and many teachers do not have computers”
    A certain Prime Minister once said “dem duncy head children…..” He is now PM of the nation of Ebonics. They were warned by a former Prime Minister that he is dangerous for TnT. But they still stained their finger for him making him their Chief.

    The laptop program ended with a massive debate on the virtue and value of it. It was not a matter of cost so let us take that out of the equation. The price ranged from $54 to $94 million. A paltry amount given that the PNM has a war chest of $21,000,000,000.00 to fight Corvid19. $10,000,000,000 taken out of the HSF where Kamla had left an additional $31,000,000,000 in the HSF and import cover was over a year. The problem with the laptop is not money but politics where the education minister shameless started a begging program for laptops. He would not be called on it because no one wants to offend pappy.

    The $21,000,000,000 set aside to fight Corvid19 is really money that will be going into the pockets of the 1% nicely protected by the asses opps masses who drink balisier juice night and day. The minister of national security hired extra people with state funding to attack the Opposition Leader. Any statement she makes that appears on the 1% media outlet is fraught with black hate. They are like a pack of hyenas. Social media once the daily rant of Stuart little is now safely back in the hands of the wajangs. He is now behaving as a church mouse as massa and slave combo takes to cyberspace. Yes you can control the pigs by feeding them a lot of slop paid for by the State.

    The much maligned Couva hospital which was not supposed to be built in Opposition area is now the saving grace of the Corvid19 assault. It has now won the favour of the blights. Point Fortin and Arima in tow. At the end of this PNM regime reign TnT will be bankrupted as the engineer turn minister of finance has borrow and borrow and borrow. Conservative estimate of debt is over $120,000,000,000 with over $40 billion in Central Bank overdraft. Yes you were warned…whoever takes over will suddenly face bankruptcy of the nation…highest borrower in the Caribbean. The Scripture teaches a lender is better than a borrower.

  2. T&T is not the USA. Many teachers do not have access to modern technology or the skills required to communicate with their students.
    Many students do not have access to computers, materials or the skills required to make home learning a reality. Don’t forget that the laptop program was terminated by this dinosaur minister of education.
    Do you ask a cabinet maker to build a piece of furniture with no tools?
    This crisis is continually showing the disparities in our society. While some people are literally starving with not one cent in their pocket, others are demanding services and attempting to sue the State to demand their privileges.
    While politicians parade around in jacket and tie, giving press conferences and telling people how to live from a pretend first world platform, the reality of third world conditions are being exposed in our hospitals, health centres, communities, and education system.
    How do you expect people to stay at home and observe social distancing when in some villages they have no water and like their ancestors did, they go to the stand pipe to get water?
    That picture in the Express with men in Sea Lots faced down in the dirt with armed police intimidating them is a symbol of everything that is wrong in our society.

  3. U.S. oil price drops to .15cents a barrel. The 2020 fiscal package is now pegged at an oil price of US$40 a barrel (adjusted from US$60. Dark days ahead as the world records the worst slump in a long time.

    The inflated price you pay at the pump drives the TNT economy. But with such a glut one can only speculate about the future. This pandemic is going to create an economic crisis of varied proportions. Energy the main driver of TnT economy is taking a beating. As oil drop so does gas prices. The price for Natural gas is already low on the global market.

    The PNM cannot manage an economy without a lot of money. There must be enough to steal, fix PNM areas and spend like crazy. The sad reality is that the poor man will suffer the most.

  4. To date there has been 114 cases of covid19 and 8 deaths. Most of the cases come from those who were on cruise ship. I can’t see how this could justify shutting down an entire nation. Many small businesses are suffering.

    Some areas would justify lifting the band due to no Corvid19 and other densely populated areas closed for another 2 weeks. This would ease the economic impact and save the government money. Venes for some reason are treated as royalty in comparison to our Caribbean citizens. Those who possess the cards will get government money whilst citizens and Caribbean citizens suffer. This is the way the PNM operates. Always looking for creative ways to pressure citizens. Some 33 citizens will return home today in a naked display of PNM arrogance. Took this administration lacking in compassion to make the Bajans look like the saviour of the Caribbean. Bet if the have Vene cards Rowley would have acted faster.

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