Teachers Union must put aside politics

Dear Editor,
At such a time as this, when an unpredictable, deadly virus has killed over 4 million people and infected 196 million around the world, and there is no telling what would happen next, I expected the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) to not only mould the nation, but be the teachers and educators of the nation that vaccination is the road we must take. If not the teachers, who? Vaccines do not kill, viruses do!
With only a disappointing 23% of teachers vaccinated and schools scheduled to reopen in September after more than a year’s hiatus, the voices of reason should prevail. I fully agree with President Ali, who said recently that he hopes teachers would show leadership and get vaccinated, as the Government would not be exposing children to unvaccinated teachers.
Because vaccines inoculate everyone against this dreaded, deadly virus, all of us should be troubled by those who refuse to get vaccinated. The unvaccinated are now as deadly as the virus itself, for they are not only susceptible to infection, but would carry it. The Government has a responsibility to defend the health of all, President Ali has said.
But, according to a GTU statement, the President attempted “to cajole teachers to get vaccinated.” I ask what is wrong with “cajoling?” “Cajoling” means “persuading.” That’s what a Head of State should do! When large numbers die or get sick and overwhelm the limping, limited, basic health care systems we have, who would they try to blame?
The union’s posture is reckless, when it says, “GTU is urging ‘all teachers and right-thinking Guyanese’ to resist any attempt if it becomes mandatory to take the COVID-19 vaccine…Teachers!
We will stand with you should there be any attempt to make vaccination mandatory for returning to the classroom.”
Because the union cares, won’t it be nicer for them to say, “If you voluntarily did not get the vaccine and the virus hits you, we will pay all your medical and treatment expenses, and take care of your families” while you are panting for breath on a hospital bed (if one is available)”?
The GTU will be hard-pressed to defend itself for adopting such an adversarial position, and it would not be lost on the nation if people have perceptions that a top leader of the GTU, who was a candidate for the defeated PNC, might be playing politics with the virus.
I agree with Minister Manickchand when she said GTU must decide if it wants to play politics or work for the nation’s education interests.
It sounds so silly when the Union says, “We wish to see awareness campaigns that match the zeal of the vaccination drives to assure our members (and all Guyanese) during this trying time.” Since they are the expert educators, shouldn’t the GTU and teachers be leading the education and awareness campaigns, in the national interest?
Teachers might be the most informed group in Guyana, and can influence their communities by their example. What more education do they need? Have they been living under a rock?
It is time for the parents, PTAs, school boards and civil society to speak up on this matter. Do parents want their children from nursery to high schools be exposed to unvaccinated teachers? Is that a wise thing? So, it’s voluntary to take the vaccine and to remain unvaccinated, posing high risks to our students in schools; but mandatory that teachers get hefty pay hikes and all kinds of allowances from the Government?
New York city just passed a rule that you must be vaccinated to go to gyms, restaurants, and other businesses. The PNC’s Dr. Karen Cummings and Burnham’s son-in-law, Dr. Van-West Charles, both doctors, have shed their political hats and called on people to get vaccinated. I am a righteous person, and not given to colourful language, but my friend Suresh does. He said in his deep Corentyne accent, “Meh shack dem teachers nah get vaccinated. Dem rass want kill ahbee pickney? Nowadays everybody gat rights. Rights to use mariwanna and grow hemp, right to cross-dressing, right to sodomy, right to ask for reduce sentence when dem kill people mercilessly, and now right fuh na vaccinate… Dem ah watch too much Merican TV,” Suresh added. “How come dem teacha nah seh, ‘We have the right fuh Exxan pay taxes, and fuh renegotiate the kontrack, suh we cyan give dem mo pay raises”? Suresh said.
The GTU should know that teachers have their choice, and the Government has a responsibility to protect the entire nation. GTU, please put the nation’s interests first, and do the right thing!

Dr. Jerry Jailall