The politics of education

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

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To the people fitted with either orange or green blinkers there's nothing like a good political squabble.

Not only do they relish apportioning blame to their opponents, they seek to mindlessly portray the image that their side is better at managing any issue that is at the centre of the dispute.

A first-time visitor to Jamaica today, who had no knowledge of past events, would easily be fooled by the statements issued by the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) over the current wage imbroglio between the Government and the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA).

The same would obtain for a first-time visitor listening to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) during the years when the PNP formed the Government.

In both instances, the Opposition proclaims its support for the teachers, telling the Government to grant the teachers the increases that they deserve, while the Government laments its inability to pay more, given fiscal constraints.

Not to be left out of this theatre are the surrogates of both political parties, chief among them the youth groups, who demonstrate that they are no more than mere clones who are unable to think for themselves.

In the present dispute, the JTA has rejected the Government's wage increase offer of 16 per cent over four years and has declared that teachers would not accept a one-year retroactive payment to be made this month, as no agreement had been reached and negotiations were still in progress.

The JTA president, Mrs Georgia Waugh-Richards, has also accused the Government of union busting and said if payments were made this month it would be a breach of their collective bargaining rights.

On Monday this week a number of teachers across the island started what was reported to be a three-day sick-out which, we are told, has won support from some parents. The irony is that among those parents are likely to be some who readily complain that they have to send their children to extra lessons, thus implying that teachers are not fulfilling their mandate during school hours.

We have, in the past, pleaded with politicians and their satellites to refrain from playing political football with the country's education system. We make that appeal again, as this zeal to score cheap political points does not help students.

Indeed, in the early stages of Jamaican Independence, politics was the driving force behind the forward movement of our people, especially the poor and the oppressed. These days, however, politics, particularly partisan politics, seems to be the main obstacle in the way of our progress.

We suggest that both the Government and the Opposition agree on a set of principles relating to education, and indeed crime, as we have argued in the past, and live by them.

The immediate task, though, is to get both the teachers and the Government talking again, which, we see, is scheduled to happen today at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

Our hope is that the parties come to table without their egos and personal ambitions. The nation's children deserve it.

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