The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) has rejected what it says are suggestions by some members of the public that teachers’ salaries be cut because they are not in the classroom.
Teachers in SVG have, largely, been engaging students in classes online, and SVGTU President, Oswald Robinson, told a press conference on Friday, that this is more taxing and expensive for teachers.
“I am hearing in, the public, people speaking about some teachers not teaching and cut their salary and these sorts of things. We need to understand that teachers are part of the society,” Robinson said.
“And not because you are a teacher, that does not mean that you have high-speed internet. There are some teachers who are operating on a $50 internet per month. That’s what they can afford,” he said.
Robinson’s comments came as he outlined some of the challenges that teachers face in delivering their lessons online.
He, however, said that the majority of teachers have been trying to reach their students.
“But when they log on, they also have students in their home that have to log on to the internet and it slows down.”
The union head said that twice the previous week there was a power outage while teachers were in the heart of their online classes.
He questioned whether these were as a result of emergencies and whether the power company could have issued a broadcast, so that teachers could adjust their timetables.
Robinson noted that the internet is powered by the municipal supply of electricity and when there is a power outage, the internet also goes down.
He further said there are still too many students without internet access and electricity.
“And the whole question of nutrition is also critical,” he said, adding that the union’s experience is that there are students who do not go to school if they don’t have a meal and, therefore, rely on the School Feeding Programme.
Robinson said that many of these students are now at home in households where their parents are unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So we are saying that teachers are overworked. I know there are some administrators who were asking teachers to produce two hours per day.”
He said that some people got it wrong thinking it was two-three hours per teacher per day.
“It takes a lot of planning to prepare, especially with the students who are in the lower levels, early childhood. You have to browse the internet and select age appropriate activities,” he said.
He said that parents still have to monitor what their children are doing online with their devices so as to not be exposed to inappropriate content.
“So parental guidance now in cyberspace is something that is critical. So teachers are overwhelmed; parents are overwhelmed; children are overwhelmed.
“Teachers have to spend more time using their electricity because they have to spend more time on the internet and the internet doesn’t work on fire coals. It works on electricity, which they have to pay.”
Robinson said there is an increase in the cost of basic food items.
“If you go to the supermarket now, you will see things there that you … have seen over the past, like last year, a lot of those items …have gone up. Teachers have to buy food too. Teachers have to pay their bills. They have to travel.”
He said that the union was not making a case for preferential treatment for teachers.
“… sometimes when we speak for our membership, people in the public feel, ‘Oh, everybody have to live’. Yes, our responsibility, we are speaking for our members but we are also taking a balanced approach because we … have given a voice to people who are, more or less, voiceless or have nobody representing them.
“We have spoken to categories of workers which have no representation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, because teachers have relationships with these people also.”
Robinson said it is important that the public understand how teachers have to operate from home now.
“Nobody has come to the assistance of the teacher and say let me give you something that you could pad a room, a little 2×4 space in your home that you can launch your platform from and teach from there.
“You still have to teach either from your sitting room or your bedroom. And you have other children around you too and the distraction. All those are issues teachers have to deal with because people want to access you online, how you manage the virtual classroom. You have no control over the background noise. It’s your home.”
He asked whether teachers now have time to prepare their meals because they have to be teaching online.
Robinson said that some secondary schools “have gone completely far away from the basic psychology when it comes to online teaching and learning”.
These schools, he said, are following, online, the same timetable that they did for face-to-face teaching.
“There are some schools that are operating as normal, normal school hours: 8, 8:30 [a.m.] right up to 3 [p.m.], doing online teaching all those hours.
“And the Ministry of Education knows, in one of our first virtual meetings with them, they approved and they confirmed that you are not supposed to do all those amount of hours teaching online. So it is impacting on the health of our teachers, our students, it is a lot more costly now, and nobody is coming to the assistance of teachers,” he said.
“Now we are hearing people in the public saying, ‘Oh, pay them half salary because they are at home sitting down not doing anything.’ That is far from the truth. If there is any teacher who is not online teaching, then it is a minority,” he said.