In an apparent effort to circumvent industrial action by teachers, the Ministry of Education has extended the Easter vacation for public primary and secondary schools by four days.
Classes are therefore expected to resume on Monday, April 17, giving students the traditional two-week break that was once in place.
According to a press statement from the Ministry, this decision was taken in response to a letter from the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT), which signaled its intention to stage in a sit-in starting today, April 11, when classes should have resumed.
The A&BUT is agitating for the proper lighting of 14 school grounds; fencing for the Sir Novelle Richards Academy; installation of electronic surveillance equipment on 15 compounds; teacher upgrades; and a resumption of negotiations on its collective bargaining agreement.
Regarding the lighting issue, the Ministry says 12 institutions have been completed, so far, and work should be finalised on the other two by today.
A communique from the Ministry also notes that funding to construct the fence at Sir Novelle Richards Academy – estimated at $300,000 – was previously approved under the Caribbean Development Bank’s Third Basic Project for Education.
However, further discussions will be held among the Cabinet, Union representatives, and officials from the Lands and Survey Department today, April 11, to finalise actual construction plans.
As for the teacher upgrades, the Ministry reports that 326 educators have been upgraded – although some of them have not yet received their payments.
Regarding the installation of electronic surveillance equipment, the Ministry says preliminary work has begun at the Princess Margaret School, Clare Hall and All Saints Secondaries, and the Ottos Comprehensive School.
The Union expects to meet with government officials today, and the Ministry says it is hopeful that an “acceptable position” can be reached, so that the outstanding matters can be resolved.
Meanwhile, the Union has called an extraordinary general meeting of its membership for Thursday morning, April 13, at its headquarters.
A veteran teacher tells REAL News she does not expect that all their issues will be resolved in the four extra days of vacation. Hence, she says, “it will be one of two things: No strike, since they are at the table, or a short strike because work has started.”
She also believes the Government’s short-circuiting of the teachers’ planned sit-in was “designed to turn parents and society against us” and notes that, among certain media people, the “spin” has already begun.
Some parents, on the other hand, are laying the blame squarely at the Administration’s feet. Several of them tell our Newsroom that the extension is “unprofessional;” “unfair, especially to single parents;” and proof that “this Government has no ambitions or plans for our children – as it already showed us during the COVID lockdown.”
They point out that not one of the teachers’ issues is new, and chide the Ministry of Education for failing to properly address them during the last five years.
“If they had spent the E-books money on the teachers’ increase and to fix up the physical condition of the schools, all of this could have been avoided,” one retiree says. “The Government wants to teach, but it seems unable to learn,” he concludes.