Teachers in Taiwan have been prioritised to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. This is a huge win for the National Teachers Association (NTA) which advocated for this during the second wave of the pandemic in the country.
The NTA lobbied MPs to prioritise teachers in the COVID-19 vaccination roll out. This was in line with Education International’s campaign, launched last year, that urged governments to prioritise teachers and educators for vaccination.
On 9 June, the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC), confirmed that teachers were to be listed in the seventh phase of the public vaccination priority rollout. This was significant as, initially, teachers had not been included on this list.
No teachers or students left behind
The government answered NTA’s appeal to consider teachers and education providers as essential public service workers, in accordance with the definition for the seventh priority list, i.e., “those who were essential to maintain national security and basic social services functioning”. The first of the six vaccination priority groups were frontline medical and public health personnel, border control personnel, personnel on necessary cross-border diplomatic duty, caretakers working in care institutions for elderly or chronic patients, and people aged 75 years and older.
NTA’s quick response to the crisis and leadership
The NTA was quick to respond to the CDC’s 15 May announcement that the COVID-19 alert level of the capital was raised from a level two “alert” to a level three “warning”. The NTA promptly released an urgent statement calling for “safe schools first”, strongly recommended that schools at all levels nationwide:
- Receive enough preventive sanitary equipment for teachers, education support personnel, and students, such as masks, automatic-sensing thermometers, and soap.
- Enforce strict control over school entrance, so that anyone coming in and out of education premises be required to register online via the national health-tracking platform. Schools should also design separate times, routes, and zones for students arriving at school, entering classrooms and leaving to go back home, and for parents picking up their children after school.
- Implement necessary preventive measures, including checking and recording people’s temperatures twice a day, sanitising classrooms and campus after school daily, keeping some windows opened in air-conditioned classrooms for ventilation, ensuring people are always wearing masks and washing hands, etc.
These guidelines for prevention in educational settings were crucial for teachers who are union members, as the latter proved to be accountable for the best practices in terms of health and safety practices. NTA highlighted that every member played a key leading role at the education frontline against the virus, responding to daily challenges in the classrooms, as well as undertaking a considerable amount of extra administrative work. It has been significant for members to feel the NTA union standing by them, supporting them, and showing the way forward as the public health crisis unfolded.
Union recommendations taken up by Ministry
A key education stakeholder and partner, the Ministry of Education (MoE) adopted several union recommendations in the collective fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 18 May, the Taiwan CDC and MoE announced full school closure throughout the country to avoid further community infection. This closure was extended twice. From early childhood education (ECE) to higher education, whether in the public or private sectors, all formal and informal schools, learning, or training classes were ordered to close. They moved to online education.
In addition, almost all students’ extracurricular activities, like sport tournaments and art performances, were postponed until further notice or simply cancelled.
Graduation ceremonies as well as other events on campus took place online. The national examinations were delayed twice, until late July. Only the national senior high school entrance examinations remained scheduled as planned, with extremely strict preventive measures put in place.
Teachers, students, and parents were forced to adapt to new education formats overnight. Teachers saw a tremendous increase of their workload and stress level, as they struggled to meet the high expectations in unprecedented difficult times.
Although the online teaching system had already been used during the previous pandemic outbreak in 2020, it still took time and tireless efforts for all education staff to ensure proper functioning of remote teaching and learning, and fix numerous technical issues. Teachers on the frontline also had to ensure that every student/family had sufficient equipment to keep up with online courses. Significant challenges arose in relation to the effectiveness and outcome of students’ learning at home and to the communication with parents to make sure students stayed safely at home.
Secure rights of teachers
NTA leaders, unionists, and staff have responded promptly to the changes brought about by the pandemic. They also requested measures from the government to secure the rights of teachers and students during the public health crisis.
These measures included:
- Prioritising the vaccination of teachers, to include teachers in specific schools, like special schools or university affiliated high schools, and those who helped with local governments’ elderly vaccination programmes taking place at their schools.
- Ensuring that education support personnel qualify for the governmental COVID-relief programme.
- Ensuring that ECE educators receive the same compensatory status as teachers.
- Guaranteeing the full payment of salaries for teachers who chose to teach remotely from home.
Defence of students’ learning rights
NTA also defended students’ learning rights. It urged public authorities to:
- Provide adequate resources and appropriate arrangements for continuous learning for students with special needs.
- Provide COVID-19-positive learners who were undertaking national examination in advanced subjects to enter universities and colleges with remedial measures.
- Acknowledge the qualification for governmental COVID-relief programmes of vocational education and training students working part-time and paid as interns in small factories or larger corporations.
- Provide any form of necessary support to ensure the mental and physical wellbeing of students, especially those from high-risk and disadvantaged families, and victims of bullying.
- Respect the autonomy of the school administration for improved prevention of community infection, such as adjusting curricula or timetables, at all education levels.