The traditional reopening of schools around the country is still nowhere in sight. As a matter of fact, the Prime Minister noted this morning that while he empathizes with the education stakeholders, particularly the students who are finding it challenging, distance learning will have to continue indefinitely. Currently, teachers are asked to still go into school to conduct their online sessions; this, according to the Prime Minister, is being challenged by President of the Belize National Teachers Union, Elena Smith.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “Coming to the question of any decision to in fact reopen schools let me say this, I just had a message two or so days ago from the president of the BNTU the Belize National Teachers Union asking if in fact the NOC would contemplate pulling back from the current situation in which teachers are asked to physically go to school to prepare the lessons that later on are given out or prepare the work that’s distributed to the children via whatever means they use. President Smith is saying that a number of teachers have been afflicted by COVID and that it is the considered view of the union and of the teachers they represent that teachers should not even be asked to go to school with the schools being empty not to do any kind of teaching but just to do the organization of the work load. So it strikes me that you’re not going to get any support at all from certainly the unionized teachers in terms of the call for the physical reopening of schools. Now the private schools are another matter but again I think while there’s nothing to say that we can’t be flexible in the normal course you would want uniformity in terms of this whole policy of whether or not schools are to reopen. I would think then that given certainly that last position I had from President Elena Smith the NOC is not likely but certainly don’t slam the door shut I can’t usurp what really is the decision making of the NOC but my best guess is that once they are made aware of the position of the BNTU and I’ve been asked by the president to put this to the NOC I don’t see that the likelihood is very high that there will be any decision to physical reopen schools any time soon.”
Love News reached out to President Elena Smith who was ready to lash back saying that her request was merely to stop the spread of COVID-19. She says they are more than willing to compromise with the Government.
Senator Elena Smith, President, Belize National Teachers Union: “We had been asking the Ministry if they would reconsider their position in terms of having teachers report to school every day because we note the concerns that our teachers have as it relates to their transportation issues that they’re having and then the fact that going from one area to the next could put them a bit more at risk on a daily basis and so we had asked them for a meeting so we could discuss that matter and see if they would reconsider. We had also mentioned to the Ministry that – and we want to make this very clear that we are not saying that we don’t want our teachers to be working that has never been the position, we are not saying either that we do not want schools to reopen that’s not the position at this point in time. Our reason for the request to the Ministry and to the PM – this is my second request to the PM because the first request that was made and the request was made to him as the Chair of the National Oversight Committee. So the first request was a tad too late because by the time he got the request they had already met and so it couldn’t have been discussed at that time. So this request now comes on the heels of the increase of the cases that we are seeing especially in some areas and if you notice there are some districts like Toledo for example that for quite some time had no cases and now we’re seeing an increase in these areas and teachers constantly have to be back and forth back and forth. So looking at the cases rising and looking at our teachers moving from place to place and the possibility that they can be transferring if you will if they were to catch it then we thought that based on our teachers in general it’s not just BNTU but it’s teachers in general that we would request of the Oversight Committee to once again reconsider their position because we were told by the Ministry that the National Oversight Committee is the body that makes those decisions and they only follow so we thought well it doesn’t make sense to go through the ministry anymore because according to them they don’t make those decisions. So the request simply is to ask the Oversight Committee to reconsider our teachers reporting to school on a daily basis especially seeing that they don’t have any children in the classrooms they can work from home. For many of them they’re having issues with internet even in urban areas they have internet issues at the school and if they can work from they would have better access to internet. Some of them don’t have at school but they have at home and so they have to be using their data to send work to their children and that kind of thing. So that was really and truly the background for the request; one to see if we can do our part in helping to reduce the number of cases that we have by not having our teachers be back and forth from school and then also to enable our teachers to be better able to access internet services to be able to better provide timely work and maybe even more child friendly work to the students that they have to reach out to and to at the same time save them some monies from having to be purchasing data on a daily or weekly basis to be able to do their work.”