By Robert A. Emmanuel
As Antigua and Barbuda prepares to host the 8th Council of Ministers of Education this week, government officials will be under pressure to see the return of teachers to the classroom.
On Wednesday, Ministers of Education from across the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) will meet at the John E St Luce Finance and Conference Centre for two days under the theme “Touching Lives through Data-Driven Development.”
However, the government may suffer some embarrassment if teachers continue their industrial action over longstanding issues which have plagued the government for years.
Last week, the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT) announced that they would return to the classrooms, but will hold a sit-in if their issues are not adequately addressed.
In its press statement dated April 14, A&BUT said it had exercised “great patience with the Ministry of Education.”
“The evidence will show that we have met with their representatives on many occasions and have withdrawn our previous threats of industrial action with the hopes that our demands would be satisfactorily addressed,” the statement read.
Last week Thursday, A&BUT held a rally with hundreds of public-school teachers in attendance, expressing their frustration with the government’s failure to uphold its agreement to resolve issues within a specific timeline—a timeline which was reportedly imposed by the government on itself.
However, the government in an email sought to request that “in the spirit of goodwill, and in the best interests of the children of this country” that teachers be asked to return to the classrooms.
On State media, Minister of Education Daryll Matthew said that the government could not just “snap its fingers” and address all the issues at hand.
“We believe that we have done, all that can be done under the circumstances; we simply cannot magically snap our fingers and the cameras appear in all the schools, and we cannot wave a magic wand and the compound is immediately surveyed at Pares Secondary school,” Minister Matthew said.
However, one teacher believed that the government could move expeditiously on an issue believed to be a priority.
Teacher Alvin Livingston, who appeared on the Big Issues programme yesterday said, “I understand [the government’s position] but if it was a real priority, it would get done and Covid highlighted that there were things we needed to get done because it was important and it happened.”
He added, “You cannot help but think over the years in terms of education, how slow [addressing issues] has been in general.”
Meanwhile, the Education Ministry promised that teachers who were owed ex-gratia payments will be paid today, Monday 17 April, and of the 336 teachers who are eligible for upgrades, all except 25—mainly “due to clerical issues”—have received their upgrade instruments.
The government is expected to meet with the Teacher’s Union today to resume negotiations on the Collective Bargaining Agreement.