TTUTA’s new President Lum Kin ready for the fight | Local News | #students | #parents

Newly-elected president of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) Martin Lum Kin says the new TTUTA executive is ready to fight for teachers to ensure that their issues are addressed.

In an interview with the Express last week Lum Kin urged all teachers to continue to be dedicated to the education of the nation’s children and to be assured that TTUTA is fighting on their behalf.

Based on the preliminary results of the TTUTA elections held last Tuesday, Lum Kim emerged victorious over outgoing president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas.

The preliminary results released by the Elections Commission showed Lum Kin receiving 3,585 votes, 50 more than Tekah-De Freitas who secured 3,535 votes.

Lum Kin said recounts have since been conducted for the six positions contested in the elections. He said while there were some changes with regard to the number of votes, there has been no change in the winners and the final results have been sent to all candidates.

The Election Commission, he said, will soon declare the final results.

As he prepares to take up his new position of leadership of the Association, Lum Kim said wage negotiations are high on his list of priorities.

TTUTA had previously rejected Government’s four per cent wage increase offer and on three occasions this year called for teachers to stay away from school to “rest and reflect” in protest.

The third rest and reflect action was stymied when the Ministry of Labour successfully filed an injunction against the Association, preventing it and its members from taking industrial action.

Despite this, Lum Kin urged teachers to keep the faith.

“Don’t give up hope. We at TTUTA, we will fight for your benefit. We will fight for your terms and conditions. Things are tough and we recognise and acknowledge that and we will do all in our power to ensure that you as teachers are given the recognition, not only by word but also by deed. We will fight for that.

“So keep teaching the nation’s children because we have come into this profession for the love of teaching. Leave the fight for economic issues and terms and conditions to your union…In places where you need to hear the voice of teachers, we will be that voice and we will ensure that our voice is heard loud and clear,” he said.

Lum Kin said while the main issue on the agenda is the outstanding wage negotiation, there are a number of other issues facing teachers, including health and safety in schools, school violence, incremental arrears and other individual grievances.

He said the issues could only be addressed through meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders including the Ministry of Education, the Chief Personnel Officer, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Division of Education, the Teaching Service Commission, principals associations and denominational boards.

“All of these bodies must come together to resolve some of these issues and it could only be done through meaningful, respectful dialogue.

“TTUTA is always willing to have consultation and dialogue when there is a need and if the need arises we will take further action. We are not afraid to do that but in the first instance we will welcome any form of consultation and dialogue,” he said.

School violence

An educator for some 32 years and current principal of the Granville RC Primary School, Lum Kin said he has a passion for education.

“Education is the vehicle by which persons can make a positive contribution to national development,” he said.

“It is the vehicle by which persons can improve themselves, come out of poverty, get out of the stigma of some of their communities…once they use this vehicle they can improve themselves and ultimately the nation as a whole.”

But he said he is concerned over the level of violence taking place in schools which is affecting teachers’ ability to teach.

The violence, he said, may have been exacerbated by the lack of interaction and opportunity for children to develop interpersonal skills during the two years of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

“It affects our teachers because most times our teachers are in the centre of witnessing or trying to stop the violence and sometimes teachers put themselves at risk…

“There are physical and legal implications when teachers get involved. So it is affecting our teachers, they cannot teach effectively if they are under the veil of fear of attack and that is the reality of some of our schools right now,” he said.

Lum Kin said TTUTA is willing to work with the ministry and other agencies to address the issue but he said the first intervention must be within the family.

“The family is the primary level of education for any child and the family is important in moulding and teaching the children different skills. When there is a break down in family it shows in the behaviour of children when they come to school.

“School violence cannot be tackled only from one angle, we have to look at it from many different angles because it is multidimensional. It’s the home, the community, the church, the school and other factors…social media…things on television that children are exposed to.”

SEA performance

Lum Kin said he was also concerned over the performance of pupils in this year’s Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) and other exams.

The Ministry of Education previously revealed that more than only 37 per cent of SEA pupils had scored above 50 per cent in the 2022 exam, a sharp decrease from previous years.

Lum Kin said it was clear that the pandemic and the method of virtual teaching implemented during the lockdown took a toll on the education system. He noted that teachers may not have been aware of children falling behind as many were receiving passing grades throughout the period of online schooling.

“The children were performing well online…we cannot say for sure but we believe that they would have been assisted by persons in the household…and so the validity and reliability of those tests were compromised.

“Teachers have been trying to bridge that gap by going back to the previous level, doing some level of reteaching and reinforcement before moving forward with the curriculum.

“But we need to have teachers better equipped and resourced. Some schools are lacking resources in some areas to do remedial work,” he said.

Lum Kim called for more support from the Student Support Services Division.

The present situation where there is one officer to a cluster of schools is not effective especially in trying to bridge this gap, he said, adding that teachers need the assistance of the student support services on a more regular basis.

Even as teachers work to bring pupils back up to pre-pandemic performance levels, Lum Kin said the SEA exam itself must be reviewed.

“It is a high-stakes exam that places a lot of pressure not only on the students but on the teachers and parents and society on the whole. We have to rethink and re-evaluate the purpose of this examination. It is a placement examination and I believe that we can find another method of placing children from primary school into secondary school,” he said.

Lum Kin said there must be equity in education so that all schools are at a level to be considered “prestige schools”.

“If you equip schools and equip teachers with the necessary training and skills and resources, I believe that the fight for certain schools will be reduced…but in its present form, the SEA needs to be reassessed so I am looking forward to the final report of the SEA review that the Ministry of Education would have commissioned,” he said.

Be positive

Lum Kin urged teachers and students to be positive and work together in the best interest of education.

“I want the students to take the opportunity that they have to be in school to learn and apply what they have learned in their everyday life. Know that your teachers are dedicated to your success, know that your teachers have your well-being at heart.

“Be positive, continue to work hard because hard work always brings success and nothing can take away education from you once you have it. It will be your vehicle to prosperity and a better way of life.

“I also want to say to everyone and to remind the authorities that the teaching conditions of the teachers are the learning conditions of our students. If it is optimal you will get optimal performance if it is less than adequate than you will have challenges..”

Lum Kin said now that the TTUTA elections are over, there is a one-month transition period where the outgoing officers will bring the incoming ones “up to speed.”

He said he wants to ensure that political affiliations and political issues brought up during the campaigning are put aside and there is healing within the Association.

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