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Over 4000 teachers on country-wide strike

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first_imgBy Davina Ramdass, Andrew Carmichael, Utamu Bell & Mohanlall SuelallThousands of students decked out in their new uniforms, bags and shoes were on Monday morning greeted with the absence of teachers, and in some cases closed school doors and padlocked gates, as they made their way to school for the beginning of the new school year.Students lingering in a classroom at a Berbice school as their teachers strikeThis was the scene at many public schools on Monday, even as the Education Ministry continues to face the full wrath of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU), whose members gathered in their hundreds outside the Education Ministry’s Brickdam, Georgetown office as they continued to call for a ‘livable income’.Covered by umbrellas and placards, the rain could not hinder the just over 4000 determined educators from all across the country, who joined the protest line in their respective regions as they put pressure on the Government for increased salaries.Anxiously awaiting a positive word from Government, the teachers were represented by GTU General Secretary Coretta McDonald, who related that the Union is ready to call off the strike if a substantial deal is brokered.“The Union’s position at this time is that we are prepared to go to arbitration. However, if there is somebody from the Government who will come to talk to us, and they have a substantial amount that they are going to give us with regards to percentage, we will accept that… We shall await what they have to offer, and we (will) talk around that,” she said.Another Berbice classroom without teacherMcDonald noted that the Union would continue its industrial action until the Government makes a favourable decision to benefit not only teachers, but students as well.The teachers’ representative pointed out that plans are in place to provide partial strike relief to GTU members, even as several organizations have come on board and are willing to contribute food items such as rice, sugar, flour, cheese and several other necessities for the teachers and their families.Teachers’ plightThe General Secretary maintained that the wages being given to teachers are not enough, and a few educators explained to this newspaper the plight of teachers.A male teacher, who is also a father said, “You (the Education Ministry) should give some consideration to teachers as well as the nation’s children… For me, I am living in a rental house, and my salary is below $100,000, and I have to pay rent, I have to take care of the bills and so forth; so it’s very hard for me”.Stephon Josiah, a teacher at Brickdam Secondary, related that he is shocked at the Ministry’s actions. “I expect a minister to be way more responsible than that, and I’m sure all the teachers out here — and the others who are scared to be here at the moment because of the threats — I’m sure that they are disappointed in the Minister also. We expect them to be reasonable,” he explained.Stacy Benjamin of Lodge Secondary School told this newspaper she is shocked and amused that Education Minister Nicolette Henry believes experienced teachers can be replaced by a few trainees.Region TwoA number of public schools have gone on a complete shutdown due to the teachers’ strike. Reports are that some teachers in Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) are even being threatened to report to work or face the consequences of being transferred to riverine and interior locations. This did not stand well with teachers in the region, who protested at the Department of Education at Cotton Field, Essequibo Coast.According to a GTU representative, Desiree VanLewin,   about 75 per cent of the schools participated in the strike, and she is hoping to get a better turnout, come Wednesday at the next protest.Teachers turned out to support the strike from all branches of the union, which included the Pomeroon, North, Central and South Essequibo. The teachers called on the Government to lead by example as they chanted, “You raised your salary by 50%; what about ours? We are the reason for your success; why suffering us? We don’t want a clash; pay us our cash. No pay, no school!”A visit to various schools in the region showed signs of children playing and lingering during school hours.Close to 200 picketers were also present in front of the Regional Education Office in Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara), having joined the call for a salary increase.LindenHundreds of teachers in Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice) took to the streets to protest Government’s unwillingness to raise their salaries.Schools from across the region saw poor turnout of students. Though some teachers and trainees were present at various schools in Linden, some schools in riverine areas recorded zero turnout of both teachers and students.Numerous students from nursery, primary and secondary schools, clad in their uniforms, were observed returning to their homes in Linden; with some explaining that they were told to return to school when the strike is called off.Parents of nursery school students were also observed collecting and taking their children back home from school in the early hours of the day.Monday morning saw scores of teachers, including head teachers, taking to the streets, settling in front of the Regional Education Department. They were decked with placards which read “Pay us our monies”, and “No money, no wuk, Teachers fed up”, among other things.The teachers also chanted, “No money, no work” and “They work we like a donkey and pay we like a junkie”.Teachers protesting in Lethem, Region NineRegional GTU General Council Representative, Ferdinand McLeod, told this publication that teachers would not let up until they receive desired results. McLeod noted that the placement of substitute teachers at various schools was also a “slap in the face” of teachers.Parents and guardians also came out to show their support. “I feel real bad this morning when I dressed my grandchildren and send them to school. But, then again, I am here to support because our teachers need more money,” a supporter said.WCD/EBDGuyana Times was told that pupils of the Peter’s Hall Primary on the East Bank Demerara Corridor were sent home, while the doors of the Houston Primary remained padlocked.Meanwhile, on the West Coast of Demerara (WCD), the Zeeburg Secondary School had quite a number of students and teachers, who reportedly were threatened with being transferred if they did not turn up to work on Monday.On the other hand, at the Windsor Forest (WCD) schools, several children and their parents were seen lingering outside the buildings with high hopes. The situation was almost the same over at the Vreed-en-Hoop Primary and Secondary schools, where teachers were seen picketing.While not all schools were on complete shutdown, a few teachers were absent from several schools, such as the Kuru-Kururu Primary, Diamond Secondary, and a few others.Teachers protesting outside the Department of Education in Region TwoScores of schools along the East Coast of Demerara were also hard hit by strike action imposed by the GTU when dozens, if not scores, of teachers failed to turn up for the first day of school, or turned up but opted not to teach.Officials on the ground say that Education Ministry personnel have been visiting various locations, and have been assessing the situation. While there was a visible presence of substitute teachers from the Cyril Potter College of Education on stand-by, it is not clear whether they were forced to teach lessons as the new school term begins.From Cummings Lodge to Better Hope, and from BV to Buxton, as well as areas such as Enterprise, Ann’s Grove, Mahaicony and Mahaica, there was marked uncertainty about what was taking place. This forced some parents to return home with their children, while others left them at the mercy of the school’s administration wherever teachers did report for duty.While confusion reigned in the capital city and in other parts of the country, the Education Minister found herself doing ‘traditional’ visits to schools in Region Six, East Berbice Corentyne.This newspaper was told that the Minister “thanked the head-teachers, teachers and trainee teachers for reporting for duty to serve the nation’s children, and wished the students and pupils well as they embark on the new school year. During further interactions, parents were also thanked for ensuring that their children attended school from the beginning of the new school year”.BerbiceIn Berbice, Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) only a small percentage of teachers turned up at school. Scores of parents reported to this newspaper that they received telephone calls from the schools their children attend, urging them to go and collect the children.When children arrived at schools on Monday morning, most of the teachers were there but only to hand over keys and to ensure that they had relinquished the responsibilities they had relative to their respective schools. The teachers left soon after for another planned activity.Many students followed. At some schools about 15 per cent of the teachers remained. Of the 38 teachers at one school, only five remained. Three of them had reported absent.At another school, eight teachers remained of the 35.Many of those who remained called parents to collect their children from school.However, Education Minister Nicolette, Henry who visited several schools in the region, urged the students to continue to attend school even as the teachers are on strike.The Minister had said that arrangements would be put in place should the strike continue when schools open. Those arrangements included the hiring of retired and trainee teachers.One of the retired teachers is Bheena Ragruhaj, 61-year-old former Head teacher of Tutorial Academy Secondary, who taught for 38 years. She told this publication that she is happy to help because of her love for teaching.According to Ragruhaj, she was asked to assist and told to go the Berbice High School. The former English teacher noted that there were no remuneration discussions held with her. Currently, she, like all the others who are assisting and who spoke with Guyana Times, said they are unaware of the money they will be paid to assist.While some parents have indicated to this newspaper that they will not be sending their children to school as long as the strike continues, others say their children will be attending school today.last_img read more

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