Lalit expresses support for the Loretto Convent teachers suspended for refusing to take charge of attendance registers.
The Press has not really explained to the public what the teachers see as the problem with being landed with taking attendance of pupils. It is up to the working class to develop its own means of explaining to the public (mainly other sections of the working class) what the reasons are for its actions. And this is what brings us in Lalit, with information from teachers concerned, to argue the teachers’ case in public.
There are basically three reasons for the teachers’ reluctance to take charge of attendance registers.
The first point is that the State makes allowance, in its subsidy to religious and other private schools, for an “usher” who is, inter alia, in charge of keeping attendance registers accurately. However, the management of private institutions can “save” this subsidy money and use it for other things, if they can get the teachers to do this work. Class teachers can, of course, keep their own register for each class, and often do so as they check on homework submitted and so on. But, in refusing to take legal charge of attendance registers, teachers are putting on record their support for the maintenance of the job of “usher”. This is particularly important when there is such widespread underemployment, and there is neo-liberal pressure to sack anyone possible. The teachers’ refusal to take attendance represents an important form of working class solidarity.
The second point, and the one that was the direct cause of the conflict, is that there are various social benefits that are now “targetted” by the State, and that are not universal benefits, and that rely, for their targetting, on school attendance. In other words, there is money involved. The State pays the examination fees of students who are present more than x% of school days. So, whenever the State refuses to pay on the grounds of absence from school, and if parents challenge this, saying, “But my child went to school more than x% of days,” the teacher in charge of the attendance register ends up having to go to the police station (of all places) to reply to charges that the child was in fact present. Instead of concentrating on teaching, teachers are increasingly in charge of this kind of child-minding. The same kind of pressure comes into play in the case of free school materials, bag and books and so on, from the National Empowerment Foundation. In order for parents to benefit, children have to have attendance more than x%, and if parents are refused this social aid on the grounds that the child was absent, the teacher is again involved in long disputes that should be the work of management.
Thirdly, there is now a brigade of police officers called brigade des mineurs. This also means a potential criminalization of children who are not in school. Once again, the teaching profession should not be in charge of forcing children to learn by enforcing attendance, but should be interesting children in wanting to learn.
The Secondary and Preparatory School Teachers and Other Staff union (SPSTSU) called on teachers not to take charge of attendance under all these circumstances. And three teachers at Loreto Convent in Quatre Bornes have been suspended, awaiting a disciplinary hearing. We call on the Authorities to ensure that there is administrative staff, like ushers, to take charge of attendance – given the legal and financial implications and possible ramifications of this important task.
Komisyon Sindikal Lalit.