Ad hoc holidays Editorial
Stabroek News
October 7, 2001

On Friday work ceased in many city schools because hundreds of teachers attended a march and rally to mark International Teachers' Day. The Guyana Teachers' Union (GTU) had applied some three weeks earlier for a managers' holiday on October 5, so they could have a 'fraternization' day. Planning for the day appears to have gone ahead on the assumption that permission for the holiday would be granted, but in the event it was not. This newspaper was told that Chief Education Officer (CEO) Ed Caesar was out of the country at the time the initial formal application was made, and the request was referred to the acting CEO. It was not exactly clear to Stabroek News what happened then, but GTU President, Mr Bertram Hamilton said that Minister Jeffrey and Mr Caesar had indicated that they had only learned of the matter the day before the march and as such, therefore, had refused the request.

By this time, the GTU's plans were already in place, and they therefore went ahead as though permission had been granted for the holiday, a circular from the Ministry of Education stating the contrary notwithstanding. As it was, many parents kept their children at home, and some of those teachers who did go to school either had no children to teach, or had very few. Angered by the Ministry's refusal, many teachers used the occasion to register a protest, carrying placards outlining their grievances during the march.

For his part Mr Hamilton told the rally that teachers must continue to fight for respect, since it would appear that none was forthcoming from the Ministry of Education. He noted that the Government had granted a holiday when World Boxing Champion Andrew Lewis won a title in a single fight, but that teachers who had been fighting for years to deliver quality education to children could not get a day on which they could be encouraged to remain in Guyana.

There are two issues involved here. The first is whether a holiday was appropriate in the circumstances at all, and the second is whether the Ministry of Education handled the request with the requisite dispatch. To deal with the last question first, quite clearly there was some snafu in the Ministry which delayed the response to the GTU. An application for a holiday made three weeks in advance cannot be turned down the day before the holiday, or, for the matter, approved the day before the holiday. This is particularly the case if activities are being planned for the occasion in question. As it was, since the response had been left so long it should have been in the affirmative rather than the negative on the grounds that a large number of teachers would take the day in any case, and a large number of parents would assume that teachers would not turn up to work - as indeed happened.

The matter of whether in principle the day should have been granted at all is somewhat more problematic. Prima facie, of course, there is no particular reason why teachers should be given the day off on International Teachers' Day. We now have a plethora of special days for all kinds of causes, organizations and professions, and if we were to observe holidays for all of them, no work would ever get done in this country. In addition, if there had been a manager's holiday probably many teachers would not have engaged in the 'fraternization' activities which the GTU may have had in mind, and would simply have used the time to conduct their own private business. It should also be observed that an incidental free day granted even once to commemorate an annual occasion is in danger of becoming an institutionalised holiday.

The problem is, of course, that both the Ministry and the Government have been in the habit for some years now of granting ad hoc school holidays. So when Mr Hamilton complains that a holiday was given for Mr Andrew Lewis (who incidentally made no request for it), but that teachers cannot get the same consideration, he has a point. Why a boxer and not the teachers, who after all are the ones directly concerned with the education of our children? The truth of the matter is that no holiday should have been given for Mr Lewis (which is in no way to denigrate his remarkable achievement), just as no sudden holidays should be given for good examination results and whatever else comes up from time to time.

Unexpected or incidental holidays disrupt school work and schedules, cause difficulties for many parents who then have to make special arrangements for their children, and convey a wrong message to the students themselves. If one is encouraging the evolution of a work ethic in the younger generation, then a series of unplanned days off is not the way to do it. Perhaps this mini-fiasco will persuade the Ministry of Education to take a decision to cease the granting of ad hoc holidays, except in very rare instances. And when they do grant an unscheduled holiday, they should give parents and teachers sufficient warning.