JTA calls on Government for SOE ...

JTA calls on Government for SOE ...

urges Andrew Holness-led Administration to 'Spend On Education'

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

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WITH teachers of some privately run schools only receiving a fraction of their salaries over the past three months and none expected for the next two months, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Owen Speid is again calling for State assistance for floundering schools.

“What I am concerned about though is that some teachers, those in the private schools in particular, are telling us that the last time they have been paid full salary was April or May — and they have only been getting a percentage of the salaries so far — and they are told, too, that they won't be getting any salary this month and next month,” Speid told the Jamaica Observer on Monday.

He said the JTA is perturbed about the situation.

“It is disconcerting to us, and we would love the Government of Jamaica to step in and provide some funding to offset the cost of those wage bills so that the teachers who have children and they themselves want to be preparing for back-to-school... they can do so and maintain their own dignity, in terms of standing up to their own responsibilities for things like rent and payment of their own bills,” he said.

The Jamaica Independent Schools' Association (JISA), which represents 150 private schools across the island, has been petitioning the Ministry of Education to offer financial assistance to its members since schools were first mandated to close in March as a means of limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus. However, the ministry has indicated that it is unable to meet that request.

According to JISA, a number of its members have been facing certain closure with others barely able to maintain operations. Overall, there are 30,000 private educational institutions in the island, inclusive of early childhood entities.

Reacting to sentiments that private institutions should apply for loans to tide them over since they are registered as businesses, the JTA president said that posed another issue.

“This might be so, [them being registered as businesses], but they still operate under the auspices of the Ministry of Education. The truth is that they should be independent but the fact is this is a crisis situation, that's why we are calling on the Government to do something to help them,” Speid insisted.

He added: “I'm sure they can't afford the expensive loans either, I would be more looking for a grant from the Government to assist them, instead of a loan — if it's even for two months,” he indicated.

Speaking in Parliament in early July, Education Minister Karl Samuda said it was “even more important now than ever that Government help basic schools that are privately run, due to the fact that a number of parents have lost their jobs or have had their earnings reduced because of the pandemic”. According to Samuda, the Government has always assisted the basic school system.

He further said that the ministry was carrying out assessments to ascertain the number of early childhood institutions that are no longer able to be opened.

Samuda suggested, too, that the time had come for private schools to no longer be private.

“We have got to a stage in Jamaica where, perhaps, we should as a Government consider the extent to which we should embrace the entire process; not to have this separation where they are privately managed, oftentimes inadvertently because of the limited resources, but to embrace them so that the entire process becomes one whole so that we don't have any separation or conflict. It would carry a few more dollars, but in the scheme of things what are a few dollars in the development of the life of our children? I think the time has come to embrace everyone and work together,” Samuda told the Lower House.

Speid said on Monday that the recent rejection of an offer from the Government by JISA to accept students from the public school system, in return for some funding, was the right decision.

“It would have been like pushing them under. It's like you see somebody drowning and you push them under because you want the space, that's exactly what that was... like saying, 'We will take the space and give you some money for the space,' which is telling them that, 'Really, you are folding under and we are guiding you under and giving you some compensation for the space'. What they need is to be bailed out,” he insisted.

“I don't like the term [bailout] but they should be assisted to foot their wage bills, even if it is in the form of a loan, but I would prefer for it to be in the form of a grant, because the truth is, so much funds have been wasted in the education ministry and in other ministries. They need to embark on a programme now to recover some of those wasted funds and use it back in education.

“We want SOE [state of emergency] now to mean 'Spend On Education' rather than having to go out there to monitor crime, because the people are not educated, because that's what it is — people who are not educated, [and] I am not talking about paper to show education. The one's who are illiterate will continue to perpetrate crimes because they are lacking in emotional intelligence. So we want SOE to mean Spend On Education,” Speid said.

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