Careers & Education

'Incentivise teaching'

BY DENISE DENNIS Career & Education writer dennisd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 07, 2012    

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THE Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) is proposing an incentive approach to addressing the shortage of educators in subjects such as mathematics.

This, while carefully skirting the issue of whether some teachers should instead be paid higher salaries than others in the profession.

"What we suggested is that we would give incentives for the training in math," association president Clayton Hall told Career & Education last month.

"We would seek to have them procure reduced interest rates from student loans and increased bursaries and scholarships which would then end in them being bonded to work in the system for a number of years," he added, noting that the JTA had yet to discuss whether some teachers should be paid more in an effort to boost their numbers.

According to Hall, they communicated their proposal to the Minister of Education, the Reverend Ronald Thwaites, following this year's sitting of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations, which saw students performing poorly in mathematics and English.

Ministry of Education statistics showed that only 46.2 per cent of the students passed English language down from 63.9 per cent last year and 64.9 per cent in 2010. A mere 31.7 per cent of students earned passes in mathematics, a decrease from 33.2 per cent last year and 39.5 per cent in 2010.

The poor performance of the students served to re-ignite the debate over what needs to be done to improve the grades. Those suggestions have included paying higher salaries to teachers of subjects, such as mathematics, science and English.

On this prescription, the JTA has remained non-committal, with Hall saying: "We, at this point, haven't discussed anything having to do with paying particular subject teachers more than other subject teachers."

Other stakeholders, among them educators and heads of the teacher-training institutions, are divided on the issue.

President of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, Senator Kavan Gayle, speaking on a radio programme in July, said he believes all teachers should be paid more, but that they should be paid "at a premium" in order to attract the best and the brightest.

Principal of St Joseph's Teachers' College Gwen Melhado agreed with the JTA that Government should provide incentives for teachers of math and specialist teachers.

"Maybe incentives can be given to encourage high school students who are considering coming into teacher training, to encourage them to study early childhood education," she said, adding that she would like to see an increase in the number of educators undertaking training to teach, for example, at the early childhood level. It is necessary, she said, to have a specially trained teacher in each classroom at every early childhood institution.

Shortwood Teachers' College principal, Elaine Foster-Allen, said neither the idea to pay some teachers more or to offer them incentives is new. There has, she said, been a proposal to allow persons working in violence-prone areas, for example, to be paid more.

Also, Foster-Allen noted, "Eight years ago, the Government offered tuition to persons wishing to take up math and science programmes in the colleges. I don't have a figure at my fingertips, but at Shortwood we have had each year at least 10 students at such a math programme."

She added that what needs to be done now is a study to see where those students are deployed, what impact they are having in the system and whether that effort should be continued.

"It's nothing new, but doesn't always work. In some instances, people go just for the extra money," Foster-Allen said, insisting that the teaching profession needs people who really want to teach.

"How do you attract the best? The first thing we have to do as teachers is engage the public as professionals. We need to have support throughout the country. We have to say, without a doubt, that education is the number one priority," Foster-Allen said.

Education consultant and author Howard Campbell, for himself, supports offering particular subject teachers more attractive salary packages.

"A couple years back, I believe there was something called a scarcity allowance. The truth is, in other jurisdictions, it is something that is done," said the consultant, a former teacher who left the profession for the private sector, after he was unable to negotiate a better salary package.

Further, Campbell said there may only be a perceived scarcity of expertise required by the education system, since it may be that trained people are simply not in the classroom.

"Skill-sets exist, but we need to take a closer look at how we keep tabs on the resources that we have and how we allocate those resources," Campbell said.

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