A contrast was evident as attendance by teachers and students at Catholic primary and secondary schools appeared to be normal on Tuesday, September 6.
There was an extremely low turnout of teachers on the first day of the school term and academic year 2022–2023, Monday September 5 as many teachers followed the advice of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) to spend the day resting and reflecting. Student attendance was also poor as parents anticipated teacher absenteeism.
The strategy by the teachers’ union was intended to signal rejection of the four per cent salary increase offered by the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO). On the table was 0, 0, 2 per cent for the three-year period October 2014–September 2017 and the same for 2017–2020.
TTUTA President Antonia De Freitas has said the action was not just about money but also “making sure that we do what is right to have quality public education for our children”.
St Gabriel’s RC, San Fernando had 20 teachers and principal in attendance with 316 of 723 students on Monday. Meanwhile, at St Theresa’s Girls’ RC, only the principal was present; the 11 staff and 91 students were absent. The principals of Santa Maria RC and Hardbargain RC turned up on Monday, but there were no teachers or students.
At Santa Rita RC, 8 of 114 students were present. At Barataria RC there was full absenteeism of staff and students. Only the principals were present at Curepe RC and South Oropouche RC.
Sacred Heart Girls’ RC had a good turnout given the circumstances. There were 27 of 31 staff members present and 688 out of 750 students. All staff at Cipero RC were present with 15 of 76 students in attendance. At Erin RC, 4 out of 6 teachers were on duty, but there were no students.
Catholic secondary schools under the CEBM had similarly low attendance but contrasting figures.
In Presentation College, San Fernando, 12 out of 49 teachers and 475 out of 675 students were present; St Benedict’s College had 13 out of 50 staff inclusive of principal and vice principal and 194 of 640 students.
St Francis Boys’ College had 10 out of 33 teachers with the principal and vice principal and 292 of 400 students. Only the principal of Matelot Community School was on site. This school has particular problems which impact attendance: a landslide and deteriorating bridge infrastructure created obstacles to safe access.
A release from the Education Ministry on Monday reported 16,819 representing 17 per cent of students, and 1,392 or 27 per cent teachers were in attendance at primary schools. For denominational primary schools, the teacher and student attendance were 28 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively. “The corresponding attendance at government schools was 24 per cent and 12 per cent respectively”.
Secondary school attendance was as follows: 28,738 or 39 per cent of students, and 1,851 or 31 per cent of teachers. At denominational secondary schools, 47 per cent of teachers and 68 per cent of students were at school. Corresponding attendance at government schools was 25 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively.
Some general data from the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) indicated for the southern vicariate, there was 85–95 per cent attendance for teachers and students while central had 95 per cent teachers and 90 per cent students.
CEBM data highlighted teacher average of 96 per cent and student average of 81 per cent in the northern vicariate. Suburban vicariate reported 94 per cent teacher attendance and 80 per cent students.
Monday’s action was not the first rest and reflection by teachers. At the start of the school term in 2018 and in 2019, TTTUA called on teachers to stay away to influence the CPO to begin negotiations.
Commenting on Monday’s action, Chief Executive Officer of the CEBM Sharon Mangroo said: “I respect the teachers’ right to look after their interests and that of their families and to do what they think is best for them. I am looking forward to the rest of the school year as we all also do what is best for the children of the nation and their families so that there is a win-win situation.”