By Kadeem Joseph
The outgoing acting president of the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT) used her state of the union address to blast the Ministry of Education (MoE), and by extension the government, for a lack of support.
As she addressed scores of educators attending the union’s Annual General Conference at the John E. St Luce Finance and Conference Centre on Thursday, J. Tasheba Frederick said teachers are “under threat”, pointing to how the government’s mandatory vaccine policy affected educators last year as one of many examples.
She explained that at the time of the implementation of the policy, the education sector had “the highest” rates of vaccinations in the country.
“With the high rate of vaccination compliance, the mandatory vaccination policy was a gross injustice to teachers and an act of bad faith,” she said.
“This mandate was used to target 109 teachers who made the choice not to be vaccinated. This was discriminatory.”
The acting president also took issue with the government’s stance on hiring substitute teachers. Frederick claimed that the A&BUT had proposed the introduction of substitute teachers in public schools based on the “exigencies of the teaching profession” but it was rejected by the government on the premise that the idea was infeasible.
“It was quite alarming that in an effort to thwart the efforts of the A&BUT and as a political gimmick, substitute teachers were miraculously feasible and placed in hoards across classrooms in Antigua and Barbuda,” she said.
“Teachers who were once viewed as irreplaceable and valuable were now thought of as easily replaceable since many people were looking for job opportunities.”
The union official further stated that despite the MoE’s claims that these substitutes had been trained, teachers had to use their time to mentor them.
She reminded the teachers gathered of their influence on the minds of the nation’s youth, adding that they had a “moral obligation” to teach students how to be good citizens, including the importance of voting.
“Teachers, remember, that the students of today are the voters of tomorrow. We are more influential than you think,” she noted.
Last October, the MoE announced plans to deploy 109 substitute teachers to replace educators who had opted not to be vaccinated to enable a return to face-to-face learning.
Frederick commended the teaching professionals, on behalf of the union, for utilising their own resources at the start of the pandemic to aid in educating students. However, she said the dedication of educators “was not adequately recognised”, rather they were blamed for the failings of distance learning.
“A&BUT would like the government, the Ministry of Education, parents, and society at large to know that remote learning failures did not occur because we were not working; it occurred because we could not continue to do the job of every other stakeholder in society,” she said to applause from the audience.
“Teachers were not in students’ homes where they could encourage, cajole, discipline, beg students to do their work.”
In light of these challenges, the former union official is questioning where are the policies targeted at holding students and parents accountable for their own success.
“Teachers should not be made to feel as failures when we are unable to do the job of parents,” she stated.
Frederick also bemoaned a lack of resources for teachers, the level of drug use amongst students, and violence among students amid increasing incidents of juvenile violence in and outside the nation’s schools.
Deputy Director of Education Ezra Jonah Greene who attended the ceremony vowed the ministry’s continued support for educators.
“Despite great limitations and unavailability of resources, we pledge to work very closely with you, as you endeavour to allow for the unearthing and preservation of your efficacy,” she said.