EDUCATION Minister Rev Ronald Thwaites has called for debate on the amount of leave available to teachers, with a view to increasing the amount of contact time with students and the number of days in the school year from its present 190.
According to Thwaites, Jamaica cannot afford to pay for permanent teachers who are out of education system on leave, while at the same time paying for substitute staff to replace them.
"Is 190 days of contact period (days)... adequate any longer given the outcomes?" Thwaites asked a group of active and retired teachers on Tuesday.
"The education system is not for the minister nor the political party he represents; not for the teachers but for the children of this country. Having them for 190 days when other countries have them for 240 days, what does it say to us?" he asked.
The minister was addressing the St Joseph's Teacher's College Alumni Association Homecoming and Jamaica 50 luncheon at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel.
Highlighting cases of inefficient use of resources in the education system, Thwaites called for a new covenant between the teaching profession, the Government, parents, and the society as a whole.
Thwaites said the "generous periods of leave" for teachers were developed in colonial times when expatriates wanted to go home to their foreign lands, when they were troubled by the heat among other reasons. But he said Jamaica has to change in order to compete globally.
"Week after week we are approached by people who want to recruit Jamaicans elsewhere but say we don't have a sufficient scientific base in which to ground our technical achievements," the minister said.
Thwaites noted that when teachers went on their legitimate leave, locum tenens (temporary staff) had to be hired in their place, thus costing the country double the amount in salaries.
Checks by the Jamaica Observer indicate that countries like Japan, Taiwan and South Korea have more than 200 school days per year. Conversely, other big countries like the United States, France and Spain have as few as 180.
However, students' contact time with teachers is also influenced by the length of school days and class sizes.
Commenting on Thwaites' statement, Jamaica Teachers' Association President Paul Adams said the amount of leave due to teachers was not arrived at by the teachers themselves but came about by negotiation with Government.
"If the minister is in malice with any component of the terms of employment of the teachers or the code of regulations, I think the minister being a lawyer and a deacon should find the most appropriate place to address his malice," Adams told the Observer.
"The JTA and the teachers of Jamaica have never flinched at having dialogue and negotiations for the improvement of the education system. But there is no debate on the terms and conditions of employment of the teachers of Jamaica that would cause any aspect of it to be malicious to the teachers," he said.