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By T.F. — Teacher in Service

It is apparent to me is that our policymakers, et al — including Members of Parliament, Cabinet and Service Commissions — are either not aware of the negative happenings at educational institutions across SVG since December 2021, or these policymakers are not fully cognisant of the realities — by way of misinformation. I hope that the contents of this letter would propel a much needed restoration to the educational sector in SVG.

While some may focus needlessly on a play of words in the legal framework of things as to whether teachers “abandoned” their jobs or were “fired” from their jobs, the evident situation in front of us all is that teachers who did not satisfy the vaccine mandate were issued letters of dismissal: i.e. they were dismissed. And while some focus unrealistically on the fact that “school continued without these teachers”, the situation in some schools was certainly grimmer than others.

The worst effects of the dismissal of teachers was felt by the following types of schools — schools in the rural zones, government assisted-schools, tertiary and technical institutions. These are schools that for years past have not gotten the same attention and due care from education policymakers as other schools do. Unfortunately, even as the dawn of a new school year approaches, the negative effects of the dismissal of much-needed teachers from these lesser-aided schools still persists. I give you some examples below:

Example 1 — Several primary schools had to make significant adjustments to their class structures and timetables due to the dismissal of teachers. At one government-assisted primary school in Kingstown, for example, classes across several grades had to be merged for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year to accommodate for the reduction in staff. Undoubtedly, more students pooled together means a less targeted approach for those students who need extra help. At another primary school in the North Windward district, the “temporary teacher” sent as a replacement in one instance was inadequately matched to meet the requirements of the job and thus the class had to be assisted by a teacher of another class. Again, this negatively affects students of both classes involved in this scenario. The students are the ones who have suffered here.

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Example 2 — Some students completing programmes at tertiary level found themselves in difficult situations with a complete lack of lecturers in some instances, or replacements who could not adequately meet the needs of the students. For several months after December 2021, no replacement was appointed to core subject areas where lecturers had been dismissed, leaving the students without proper instruction at a critical time in their educational path. Additionally some replacement teachers again could not adequately meet the requirements of the job or the subject at hand, which left some students desperate enough to reach out to their past, dismissed lecturers for assistance with the curriculum. Again, the students are the ones who have suffered here.

Example 3 — The secondary school in the heart of the constituency of North Central Windward, already plagued with numerous issues, was plunged into further disorder with the dismissal of teachers of key subject areas and further still with the dismissal of the principal. Students preparing for English A for CSEC, a core subject and requirement for tertiary education and the job market, were abruptly relieved of a qualified teacher in the final steps of their CSEC preparation. Students of geography, a subject that requires specific knowledge and skills in both the teaching and learning aspects were relieved of their subject teacher, a veteran teacher with a wealth of experience and structure, five months before the scheduled commencement of CSEC exams. Sadder still, both Spanish teachers from this institution were relieved of duties, leaving the student population and especially the CSEC students without instruction for the entire second term of school. Further still, the absence of the school’s principal, who was also relieved of duties, unfortunately, saw significant deteriorations in the general behaviour of students, discipline and structure at this particular institution. Again, the students are the ones who have suffered here.

Now, while it may seem to some that replacing those teachers relieved of duties across SVG by other fully-vaccinated alternates may be a simple solution, I give you three explanations of why this does not have to be, nor should it be the case.

1 – Firstly, during this time of implementation of the SR&O No. 28 of 2021, there were still unvaccinated personnel at some school compounds, in contravention of the said rule. Therefore, if it was possible during these passed months that unvaccinated teachers, auxiliary staff and food handlers remained within the school facility unvaccinated and untested during this time, then it was and is certainly possible for other staff to be afforded the same courtesy.

2 — Secondly, dynamics of the COVID-19 virus and the COVID-19 vaccines were not concrete eight months ago and are still not set in stone to date. At the time of the implementation of the vaccine order for specific workers in SVG, absolute information could not be provided as to the exact longevity of protection from the vaccines or the necessary frequency of boosters. Little has changed since then as data is still being observed and updated worldwide. With such fluctuating data, it seems hard-hitting to implement such a stringent policy for vaccines. Ultimately until more information is collated it seems best the issue of Covid-19 vaccination should be left as a choice for individuals.

3 — Thirdly, the previous examples, and I am sure there are many others across the nation, show the ineffectiveness of some substitutes or replacement teachers in many areas, especially in subjects that require particular skills, experience or tactfulness. Like many others before, persons filling in to new roles may eventually develop the adequate skill in the long-term to meet the requirements of the job. In the short-term, it is not worth it to take such a gamble with the students’ education.

Considering all the information provided above, I urge the policymakers once again to “right this historical wrong” that was imposed by the SR&O No. 28 of 2021. I urge, therefore, that the dismissed teachers be reinstated to their previous positions with full access to their abruptly disconnected benefits. A simple survey by the Ministry of Education or Service Commissions Department would identify those teachers who were relieved of duties, and a simply enquiry would identify those that are desirous of resuming their posts, without the need for re-application; as re-applying suggests that they would be applying anew. For the sake of the students and for the sake of our educational stability, restore our teachers.

While I make this call for teachers, I encourage the same for all dismissed state workers due to the vaccine mandate.

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