What was the price of the ‘rest’ day?


The ‘success’ story of teachers staying away on the first day of the school term is a delicate issue for me, having been a teacher myself for over a halfcentury.

I’m now retired, and in real danger of being dubbed a ‘neemakharam’, a Judas, or a self-righteous whatever for daring to offer a somewhat different perspective on this ‘success’ they are laying claim to, considering that at some times in my long career, I myself would have stayed away in protest over salaries and, even worse, enjoyed the early dismissals we got because of a lack of water or a prank call or a bomb threat and the like-half aware, though, that such would only be in the short term for a momentary respite, for we would be returning the next day to make up for our lapse.

Further, there could not have been a more just call as in the present for better salaries, for teachers among other professionals have always been at the lowest rung in the salary chain, and with the cost of living as high as it is, pandemic and all, and the last pay rise as distant and small as it was, with no real compensation in sight with this four per cent, could there have been any other course for the teachers than this?

Still there are some questions to be asked about this course of action since the circumstances this time around are significantly different from all previous occasions. Firstly, how rational is this protest on the first day and, secondly, at what price?

As to the first, the Government has been on a perennial outcry about having no money, in one instance the top obscenely suggesting we have no money to fix roads because we have been using it to save your lives from Covid; and, at the same level, the line minister, with his nowaccustomed refrain that roads will be fixed ‘when funds are available’, with the obvious implication.

And the cry about having no money is real, for there is no observable, rational plan for revenue generation through diversification inter alia, only on reliance on direct and indirect taxation of the people in myriad ways, with the soon-tobe- implemented house tax on their doorstep, and on Lotto which now seems our biggest earner.

The oil and gas days are gone, ironically when prices are at their best because of the Ukraine/Russia war, et al, and with the bigger oil and gas companies transferring their assets to the now more lucrative Guyana, the Proman initiative and all the pappy show surrounding it seem a desperate attempt to earn some revenue from oil and gas, which can only be in the distant future.

So it seems a hard fact that we don’t have any money, which is the reality our teachers should face-moreso as this group should comprise the more likely intelligent and rational people in our midst. So, where is the good sense in striking for money which the Government is in no position to offer?

Silly question, isn’t it? For the love of money drives the best of us to be irrational, to be unconscionable, to lose the value system which makes us human, civilised and noble. As Chaucer would say in The Pardoner’s Tale: ‘Radix Malorum est Cupiditas’, to mean that the love of money is the root of all evil. So I was not surprised when our teachers, in wanting their share, would ignore the significance of a good start for all pupils on the first day of school on this, their life’s journey of their own personal development, left in abeyance for so long, with a whole generation of young people in danger of psychological decimation.

Much like a sprinter needing the best start off the blocks if he is to be first at the finish, or a seedling thriving on its growth path with proper care in the early stages, or for a house to stand if its foundation is well set.

Some may argue that-were we not back on the Tuesday, and so the children? But like for the sprinter, et al, who all needed good starts, the moment would have been lost for the children, the psychological damage would have been done on the Monday, for they too needed a good start to begin well off the blocks, full in the knowledge that their teachers were with them to make this new beginning.

So the protest was ‘successful’, but at what cost? As usual, I leave the answer to you.

Dr Errol N Benjamin