Address by HE Dame Cecile La Grenade, Governor-General to the 61st Annual Grenada Union of Teachers Conference, Hillsborough, Carriacou, on 4 April 2023
Theme: Understanding the relevance of Unionism in a post-Pandemic Society
Greetings to all teachers of our tri-island state.
I would like to begin by thanking all our teachers for the important work you do in shaping our young people’s minds and hearts as they prepare to enter adulthood in an ever-changing world.
The pandemic is over, but Covid-19 is still in our midst. People are still contracting Covid, and although it no longer poses a lethal threat to most people, the health authorities are still reporting positive cases, so we must all remain vigilant. Covid-19 has been the greatest crisis faced by our country since Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
Covid-19 exposed and aggravated the difficulties and inequities facing our society. The inability of teachers to provide in-person instruction during the Covid lockdown period created challenges for our educational system. The fact that we are a developing country with limited resources compounded these challenges.
With the onset of Covid-19, teachers were suddenly required to operate in a virtual space, parents were called upon to play a support role in their children’s learning, and children had to adapt to virtual instruction without their usual social interactions, which are vital for their overall development. None of this was easy.
For our children in particular, the pandemic exacerbated existing inequalities, particularly for those who were already struggling at school, those with less support at home and those with limited access to the internet and computers.
Teachers also faced the pressures of having to quickly adapt to an entirely new format of instruction. Many had to become familiar with the technology needed to provide remote instruction, regardless of the grade level of students and teaching content, while also dealing with the stress created by the pandemic.
For both students and teachers, therefore, Covid-19 was a psychologically and emotionally difficult period, creating feelings of fear and isolation and disrupting our normal way of life. Added to this was the trauma of losing and grieving for loved ones.
It is important for everyone, but more so for teachers, to be aware of the mental health issues created by the pandemic for both you and your students.
However, despite the many ill effects of the pandemic, this virus has presented you with an opportunity to reflect on the vital role of your union and the importance of the teaching profession in the development of our country. Constructive dialogue must be held with your members, between the Union and Government and with the parents of your students. This would enable you to design and implement a robust, comprehensive and inclusive post-Covid strategy for the education sector and teaching profession.
Your theme selected this year indicates that the Grenada Union of Teachers is already cognisant of the need to prepare and implement an effective post-Covid strategy. Challenges create opportunities. The pandemic led to a period of great financial hardship, apprehension, isolation and grief, but also provided an opportunity to modernise, revolutionise and improve teaching and learning in our country.
Reflection on and radical adjustments to the way things were done prior to the pandemic, the challenges faced during the pandemic and the changes that need to be made to facilitate minimal disruption in the education of our students during any future crisis, must be done at this time. Planning is critically important.
One of the greatest lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic is the need for flexibility, creativity and a willingness to embrace change and new approaches.
A number of areas need to be incorporated into any robust plan to prepare the GUT to effectively handle the next crisis or pandemic.
The first is training in the use of digital tools. You are all aware that embracing technology, in particular education technology, is paramount. Computer literacy and educational technology are not one and the same. Developing familiarity with educational technology; the tools specially designed for communicating and imparting knowledge is essential in order to teach and educate in a virtual space.
The impact of the digital transformation that changed the world during the pandemic is both profound and lasting. Many citizens are becoming more comfortable doing their banking online, paying bills online, and have stopped writing cheques. In a way, the banks are forcing us into this digital mode of operating by increasing the cost of cheques and bank drafts! So, I am sure you have come to the realisation that digital technology is here to stay and will continue to advance.
The apprehension felt in March of 2020, when you feared for your lives and the lives and education of your students, should serve as a catalyst for urgent and decisive action to develop and implement a viable and workable plan for remote learning and the use of educational technology for your profession and union.
Educational technology requires financial resources. As a union, you can and should advocate for the devices, tools and support needed for teachers and students to function in a virtual environment. Reliable internet coverage in all areas of our country is a prerequisite for the effective use of educational technology and should be addressed on an urgent basis.
One of the areas of focus of the Grenada Union of Teachers is the professional development of its members. Professional development should, by necessity, include a remote learning component. We do not know when we will be hit by another crisis in one form or another.
The pandemic taught us that the shift from in-class instruction to remote teaching was not an easy one for a variety of reasons. These include limited access by students to technology, a steep learning curve for teachers to familiarise themselves with the technology needed to switch from in-person to remote instruction and, as importantly, a creative approach on the part of teachers. For example, some subjects, such as biology and chemistry, require more hands-on learning and thus call for more innovative approaches to online instruction.
While not losing sight of the fact that we are all social beings and that for students, social interaction is important for the development of their cognitive and overall skills, we are faced with the reality that the pandemic has led to an irreversible shift towards greater online instruction.
It is, therefore, my hope that the current Teachers’ Conference will offer an opportunity for open discussion and brainstorming among members on the use of educational technology in a virtual setting.
The second is recognition that social support and protection are as important as educational technology.
Teachers suffered from burnout and stress during the pandemic. They were called upon to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of their own families as well as the needs of their students. The GUT brings teachers together under one umbrella. These teacher-to-teacher interactions can serve as a support network to identify and assist teachers who are struggling with the psycho-social fallout of the pandemic or other factors.
Students were also impacted by the pandemic, and perhaps experienced more intense feelings of fear and isolation than the broader society. In addition, many did not have the quiet spaces needed to study, and some parents, for reasons not of their own making, were unable to provide their children with the educational guidance and support needed during the pandemic. Teachers should make every effort to be attuned to the problems faced by children and help them find the counselling and assistance needed, whether formal or informal, to overcome their mental health challenges as well as the educational gaps that may have resulted from the pandemic.
The third area relates to community outreach. We are a small country with a history of supporting each other in times of need. As part of a community outreach effort, the database of students and teachers should be regularly updated. Efforts should be made to understand the circumstances facing both students and teachers, and assistance sought from the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Education when and where necessary.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Education can provide guidance and help identify resources to lay the foundation for an inclusive and equitable education system in Grenada. Some students excel, while others are left behind. We need all our students to become productive members of our society by making use of their unique and God-given talents.
Outreach can even go beyond the communities and include coordination and joint work with other teachers’ unions within the OECS so as to harmonise teaching methods and develop best practices.
Covid-19 gave teachers an opportunity to become more familiar with educational technology. Although we have moved back to in-person instruction, which is the most effective and equitable way for students to learn, some of you will no doubt integrate the new technologies acquired during the pandemic into your classroom instruction. We must be mindful of the fact that in the post-pandemic world of education, virtual instruction has gained a much stronger foothold.
In closing, I would like to once again express my gratitude to the teachers for their dedication and willingness to go the extra mile to ensure that our young minds are prepared for the world they will enter; one that is changing at warp speed.
I wish you an enjoyable conference and hope that you are inspired by the beautiful, pristine and serene Grenadine Island of Carriacou, the birthplace of my mother and maternal grandfather, and one which, in addition to its rich culture, has produced so many outstanding educators and leaders over the years.
It now gives me great pleasure to declare the 61st Annual Grenada Union of Teachers Conference open. I wish you much success in your deliberations.
I thank you!
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