By Carlena Knight
President of the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT) Kimdale Mackellar is calling on Cabinet to meet with the union to discuss several concerns and chart the way forward for the local education system.
Mackellar was speaking on state media as the world recognises the educators on World Teachers Day yesterday.
He stated that despite the recognition of the day, the local educators feel nothing close to being appreciated and valued.
He said that it is long overdue for Cabinet to meet with them over a number of challenges they are facing at this time, one of which is the substitute teachers that have been trained last week to fill positions of those who refuse to be vaccinated and cannot return to work.
“We feel attacked; we feel upset; we feel insulted; we feel confused in some instances. We thought we were special to this country and to the people we work for and work with, but we are finding out that we are replaceable. We have to denounce the actions of the ministry with regards to what they are calling substitute teachers because this union has been asking for substitute teachers for years and until now, just until this present situation we find ourselves very easily replaced,” Mackellar said.
“There are still schools without a number of teachers in a lot of areas and all of a sudden, teachers can be found. So, this year, the celebration for World Teachers Day will be pretty muted. Presently, where we are right now as teachers, we are not really feeling the love that we are used to feeling; we are not feeling the type of appreciation that we deserve,” he added.
Adequate internet service, provisions for resources and sufficient spacing for when face-to-face learning returns are just a few of the areas he identified as issues that still need to be addressed.
“We still have issues of spacing; Pigotts School still needs a classroom; Five Islands needs classrooms; Pares needs classrooms. Irene B Williams needs an outdoor space because the children are going to come back eventually and when they come back, we need to be able to accommodate them. We need to have conversations and bring solutions to those type of issues. What we don’t want is the legacy of Covid to be a broken education system. We have to meet, we have to talk, we have to chart the way forward,” he said.
Mackellar also spoke on the vaccine mandate dilemma and the process of exemptions.
“I am all for vaccines. The union does not have a problem with vaccines but the government has passed the law and in that law itself it puts our members at a disadvantage. Teachers would have sent in an application for an exemption and said they don’t know where to take it. You passed a law without having the implementation agencies ready for it and so now, our members are trying to seek the rights afforded to them within that law; they have nowhere to turn, it’s topsy turvy. The 1st of October came and our members are wondering where do I take this application, how do I get this processed. I understand you are trying to keep schools and the country in place but how can you do it if the mechanism isn’t there for our members to avail themselves to these rights that are provided to them under the law?” Mackellar chided.
He said that they shouldn’t have to be hearing about these measures in the media, but through open dialogues instead, and policies should be divulged to them directly.
This recent silence from the relevant officials, Mackellar said, could negatively affect the already crippled education system.
“I know teachers are very dedicated. I know that they try their best but what you are looking at when you add this degree of uncertainty and anxiety you are going to have teacher burnout. When teacher burnout comes, it may take several different forms.
“I may be sick; I may be frustrated; I may be stressed out so I may have to take a sick day, but when I take a sick day, children are affected. We are already not reaching some of the children we would want to reach and when you add all this extra anxiety and frustration it will have an effect on the way teachers present themselves and the material. This is why anything that can be done to alleviate the situation is welcomed,” he stated.
World Teacher’s Day is being celebrated under the theme ‘Teachers at the heart of Education Recovery’.