Send Teaching Council Bill back to the draftsmen
ON the available evidence, we cannot disagree with the objections raised by the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) to the proposed Jamaica Teaching Council Bill.
At the same time, we support the idea of establishing a governing body mandated to ensure professional standards are maintained in the teaching profession. That, we hold, can only redound to the benefit of teachers and, by extension, students.
The authorities who have presented the draft of this Bill are proposing that the Teaching Council be granted the power to immediately suspend and cancel the registration of a teacher who is charged with any offence that is deemed disqualifiable. Such offences, we are told, include sexual misconduct, murder, pornography, robbery and fraud.
Any well-thinking person would not readily have a problem with keeping the education sector free of persons guilty of such offences. However, based on what we have read so far, the draft Bill proposes that any teacher brought up on disciplinary charges will be allowed to be accompanied by his/her attorney, but the attorney will not be allowed to speak on the accused teacher's behalf.
That is not only imbecilic, it is most unjust and smacks of a disregard for due process. It boggles the mind that such a proviso could be proffered by serious people.
Greater thought must be given to the proposed role of the Teaching Council versus that of school boards. For it appears that what is being proposed would lead to a reduction in the powers of school boards. If that is the intent, it must be made clear, and the lines of authority need to be defined so as not to create duplication or confusion.
Furthermore, we cannot disagree with the view advanced by eminent trade unionist Mr Danny Roberts that the section of the draft relating to suspension of teachers seems to be predicated on an assumption of guilt, given that the teachers are required to show cause as to why they should not be suspended. This is quite contrary to the presumption of our legal jurisprudence that a man is innocent until proven guilty.
As it now stands, the draft bill is badly flawed in several areas and as such needs further discussion before being presented to legislators. Naturally, we are encouraged by Education Minister Ronald Thwaites' commitment to extending the consultation process, as that, we hope, will lead to the creation of a Bill that makes sense.
What we hope will not happen, though, is blind resistance to the idea of teacher-monitoring and keeping the profession clean of those devoid of the skills and qualifications required. We suggest that, in this debate, what is best for the student must take centre stage at all times.
It is important, therefore, for all the stakeholders in this sector to ensure that they participate fully in these consultations and that at the end we will see more light than heat.