Columns

Proceed until apprehended — Dr Nicely's endgame

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, June 20, 2014    

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IN trade union matters few things are as they seem. I know, as union bosses and university professors tried to get me fired because my views are inconvenient; they shake my hand, "kin teet", as they must, but they cannot kill an idea whose time has come. God's wise leaders -- "run dem" My peeps are good parents and teachers and none can see what this concocted JTA book issue is about. So "follow the money!" Peeps in Papine say: "Dr Nicely calls us educators, but I am a schoolteacher, a proud member of the Jamaica Teachers' Association, I don't need no false title of educator -- the wuk gone to 'im ed?"

An educated teacher is formidable -- need more. They say the Ministry of Education (MOE) is a feeding tree. The latitude for mischief in a payroll of $60b is staggering and the rules are biased. The MOE has no forensic accounting and is not computerised, so with $80b an equal sums by local, abroad, input to schools etc, it needs body armour. My peeps recall the JTA boss told teachers not to repay the cash paid to them in error -- My Mom calls it theft! Now union boss Dr Mark Nicely calls for schoolteachers to stay with the self-serving get-parents-to-buy-as-many-books as possible policy. Marie Antoinette nicely said: "If 25 books did not make them literate, let them buy 50!. My peeps say this is strike two for dishonesty. Oops...there go the values and attitudes! Dr Nicely said: "My recommendation, frankly, is that you are to proceed until apprehended, and when you are apprehended, the Jamaica Teachers' Association will be there to treat with the matter."

This is a quote to put over JTA Headquarters for posterity. If Mark disagrees with policy he should speak up. And if he gets no joy at MOE, tell parents why they should buy more books than kids need. The old policy was there for years and 70 per cent of students left school underachievers. Booklists were long with hefty price tags, and in 2012 Rev Thwaites alerted the union that he would relieve parents; so the experts got to work.

The book deal is simple. The MOE spends $1b on books and parents spend an equal sum, many unnecessarily so. MOE gives textbooks free to primary and on loan to secondary students; the optional supplementary books enrich lives, but teachers insist parents buy them so they bawl the "livin yeyewata" and try, but can't buy all. Many of these are not read or partly read, yet lists change so your other son has to buy different books -- wasteful, but keeps the book industry going. The booklist advisory from the MOE is revolutionary; the poor can breathe easier...thank God! So, who does it hurt?

Books are big bucks! The MOE created a master list for September 2014 and told us a good selection from it may cost say $5,000 for a primary and $12,000 for a secondary student. There are some 700,000 students, 250,000 in secondary school and each cost $12,000 -- serious cash! Can a teacher find a few good books from the list of 171 titles for grade four, five and six? Or from the 136 titles for grades seven, eight and nine? MOE added more from JTA's book business, but how long do they want the list, 900? The industry has to make money as the new curriculum needs local authors and books but my peeps think to buy all these is redundant as we now have school libraries, JLS libraries (print and virtual), MSTEM's Internet cafes; tablets, Khan Academy, Coursera, the classics free, and the Gleaner and Observer carry oodles of lessons, news stories and good reading material dirt cheap. Is the MOE or technology the threat to JTA's profits?

The MOE policy is a watershed. Prior to now teachers recommended books based on preference and "payola". Follow the money! Many nations have a national school booklist. How did poor us get here? The union negotiates pay for teachers to teach, have they made 80 per cent of our kids literate? No! Does the MOE reward JTA for failure by paying presidents who then lose $100m of the union's cash? Can't they pay $10m salary? Does a corporare entity pay the president of its employee union? Dr Nicely, after 175 years of Mico and a century of teachers paying union dues, why is the son of the maid, gardener, factory worker so ill educated that 70 per cent can't get into HEART/NTA? Yet the union wants parents to spend but the poor can take no more. Teachers are parents too, and I believe parents, the ministry, and good sense will prevail.

The media antics of Dr Nicely and his echo ex-boss Hall are strange. My Barbican peeps were horrified; they compared teachers to an illiterate machete-wielding workman. The MOE uplifts the nation's schoolteachers, tries to make teaching a profession, but they drag this "mother of all vocations" down. They say the teacher should be like the machete man and choose her tools. Who decides the tools workers bring to a workplace? Government schools run by MOE rules; hospitals by MOH rules; Dr Nicely...think! The MOE pays 24,000 schoolteachers; they are not experts in education and echo's machete man is no expert; nor a welder an expert in metallurgy. Must each teacher make a "machete" list? Imagine 10,000 booklists sent to 250,000 students; must Grade grades seven, eight and nine English teachers, in 161 schools, issue lists? Books sold, billions made -- do the math! So, what may be Dr Nicely's agenda?

Things are not what they seem. Books are not a union issue; not in collective bargaining. Second MOE/JTA relate well, though the issues are boring pay and terms. But, fine, get as much pay as possible for as little work as necessary. Third, it's not usual for a union to open itself up to conflict of interest or corruption charges by bidding where family, union members are in top posts -- management, policy, procurement. Dr Nicely has brought JTA's other business with the MOE into focus so let Dirk Harrison check on them. So, why did union boss Dr Nicely start a spat when no teacher benefit is at stake? My peeps say hubris is dangerous. You push, get your way, huff and puff, push get other stuff and get comfortable with having your way. Power really corrupts. Then on to really big stuff...let's see.

A teacher's union can't dictate education any more than any company's union cam dictate that firms services. But it may think it can; being middle class with "sleepers" in court. The JTA is a rich, middle class union on a roll. A schoolteacher's job for life after a year's probation is the key to its success -- which "sleeper" wrote that in? The class system and white collar "squaddie" spirit is alive. Echo's machete man has no job for life. Men in suits help men in suits. Is JTA's defiance a Trojan horse -- would-be middle class kingmakers chosen by 4,000 middle class teachers to seek power in education policy? Sorry, no coup here. Get elected, sir! Was Dr Nicely emboldened by middle class failure to condemn the missteps of middle class union bosses past, present, to come?

"First they came for the rich Jews, and we were silent as we were not rich Jews. Then they came for the poor Jews. and we were silent as we were not Jews;...they came for us." Nazis tested the waters, no one objected, and the rest is history. JTA may be testing the waters. Stay conscious, my friend.

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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