EDUCATION Minister, the Rev Ronald Thwaites, is to be commended for the honesty he has displayed on the job as well as the passion he has shown with respect to the task of ensuring that every Jamaican child gets a quality education.
The perennial flexing of the muscle coming from the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) regarding the ever-vexing issue of salaries will as usual create a confrontationist approach leading up to the start of the new school year. But both teachers and the government must sit down at the bargaining table and determine that whatever the outcome, the nation's educational system should not be the major victim of circumstance.
The recent CSEC/CXC/CAPE results may have put a damper on things, but this writer would want to urge the major players not to jump to hasty conclusions as to why these were not more impressive. The many passes with distinctions as well as other individual stories of students getting quality grades against the odds would suggest that all is not lost, so let us fix what needs to be fixed while giving appropriate kudos.
One worrying factor, though, is the extent to which the majority of teachers in this country put their students first. It is well known that some teachers are merely in the classroom or behind the principal's desk to earn a salary as well as the other perks that go with the post, including extended vacation leave with pay. Indeed, not all teachers are teachers. Some are “tea trash”, as is expressed in common Jamaican parlance. The latter do not consistently write lesson plans, are always late or frequently absent, have very little love or any at all for their charges and can't wait to go home and get away from those they regard as “a waste of time”.
I am all for teachers being paid on the basis of performance. After all, if they are going to be insisting that they should be paid salaries commensurate with those paid in the private sector, then they must earn their keep. There is this worrying trend, too, of what I call “degree-itis” whereby many people who go out of their way to earn a degree are primarily doing so in order to be better paid as well as to acquire “status” and recognition. In the good old days when most teachers had only a diploma, while some had only Third Year or GCE academic successes, the quality of education in many instances far outweighs today's output. It is most alarming that many teachers do not speak proper English when they are imparting knowledge in the classroom. I well recall an incident once when I gave a lift to a young woman who claimed that she was a teacher. During a conversation with her, I asked what she taught. She proudly replied, “I teaches English.”
The ever-worrying issue of violence in our schools will no doubt rear its ugly head when the new school year progresses, and in this context parents must be reminded that they have a most pivotal role to play. It is well known that schools which have a very active and involved Parent Teachers' Association (PTA) tend to have a better-rounded environment. Too many parents just abandon their children to the teachers who must take on their role and more. The abuse meted out to teachers who seek to discipline their children must stop, and the education ministry as well as the police must deal firmly and decisively with those miscreants. Absentee or “don't-care” fathers are also a serious part of the problem, and I would love to see the National Parent Teachers' Association leading a campaign to get fathers more involved on a sustained basis in their children's education – especially the boys’.
The contentious matter of auxiliary fees continues to haunt the education landscape, However, it must be understood that although education is a very expensive proposition it is also the best investment that parents can make for their children. The freeness mentality in this country must be curtailed, particularly when it comes to education. Many schools can only remain open when those auxiliary fees are paid. It is regrettable that the politicisation of education has led some people to believe that it is wicked and unconscionable for parents and guardians to meet these necessary expenses. One recalls when a certain politician in Gordon House referred to the principal of a prominent high school as being “an extortionist”. Education Minister Ronald Thwaites hit the nail on the head when he urged parents to forgo the “bling” and those unnecessary luxury items in order to make the sacrifice to ensure that their children go to school.
The bottom line is that education is Jamaica's only hope, if as a people we are to attain sustained economic independence and ultimately social stability. So come September 3, 2012, it is back to school, back to reality.
Lloyd B Smith is a member of parliament and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the People's National Party or the Government of Jamaica.