OCHO RIOS, St Ann — Newly installed president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), Dr Mark Nicely, says a system must be put in place to determine to what extent the Ministry of Education is achieving its goals.
"In this era of accountability and transparency the ministry, too, must be called on to account for its stewardship of the education sector," Dr Nicely said Monday night following his installation at a ceremony at the Sunset Jamaica Grande in Ocho Rios, where the association's annual conference was being held.
"I challenge the Ministry of Education to move away from the confines of the narrow funnel, which says to you it is all the teachers' fault and articulate to this nation a plan of action aimed at addressing the multiple problems facing the education sector, many of which do not relate to the teachers," he said.
He said the ministry should present its plans regarding the assignment of social workers to regional offices; to treat the high level of truancy among students; to minimise the high level of violence against children resulting in premature deaths; to provide schools with the necessary resources; to screen all children entering grade one and to make information available to schools.
He said the JTA is prepared to work with the ministry to ensure problems in the system are addressed, but asked that there be an end to the belief that when children do not do well, it is the fault of the teacher.
The new JTA president said the organisation believes in teachers' accountability, but that the realities of the failing home, failing parents, a failing community, a failing ministry and a failing economy should be considered.
"The reality is that is that any failure in the education sector is as a result of all those who have a role to play in education," he said.
He also highlighted the need for focus to be placed on special education in all institutions. Children with special needs, he said, should no longer be overlooked or lost in the system but should be identified and referred to for special attention.
"As a nation, we must desist from using education in Jamaica as a perennial football from which one can gain cheap publicity and score cheap political points," Dr Nicely stressed, noting that education is serious business and should not be "trivialised and medialised."
He also emphasised that the teachers' union will continue the fight to protect the welfare of its members.
"If ever there was a time when teachers' income needed protection, that time is now. If ever there was a time when safeguarding the benefits of our nation's teachers is relevant, that time is now; and if ever there was a time of safeguarding the future of our nation's teachers, that time is now," he said.
"Any change in the benefits that teachers now enjoy would be a breach of international industrial relations practice and would make null and void the recent wage restraint document signed between the Jamaica Teachers' Association and the Ministry of Finance," he added.
Meanwhile, he also said that the JTA's position against the transfer of teachers remain as this could lead to instability in the system. He argued that such transfers would create a system of inequality, primarily to the poor -- likening it to the placement system for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).
"What the Government will then seek to do as they do [with the] GSAT placement is to select the best and send the best to the best. Teacher deployment would then be no different from what we see with GSAT placements," he said.
"The policy might then be to send the best where my interest lies or give a school the best students through GSAT, give that school the best ratio of one to 20 and to top it all off, give that school the best teachers, assess the school and call that school the best school," he said.
"The teachers of Jamaica will not be subjected to a GSAT model of deployed teachers," he pointed out.