Regional

Early childhood teachers want more money

Some getting as low as $8,000 monthly

BY RENAE DIXON Sunday Observer reporter dixonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 12, 2014    

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OCHO RIOS, St Ann — On the heels of an increase in the National Minimum Wage, early childhood education teachers also want the Government to increase the subsidy that it gives to them.

According to chairman of the St Ann Early Childhood Parish Board, Devon Evans, the organisation is "appealing to the Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites to increase the salary subsidy for basic school teachers across the island."

Evans, during a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer, said that "the salary subsidy, which is a monthly allowance paid to teachers in recognised basic schools, has not been increased since 2007, while over that period, the minimum wage has increased at least five times."

Basic schools depend on the fees of students to pay their staff. However, sometimes the fees are not paid on time, thus posing a challenge.

Evans said that several basic school teachers were not paid last December, due to late or non-payment of fees, with some teachers just receiving payments since the start of this school term. Many schools try to raise money through fund-raising activities. However, the challenges remain, Evans said.

He said that with most basic schools continuing to find it difficult to pay their staff as a result of the country's economic challenges, these teachers have been left to depend solely on the salary subsidy as their main source of income.

However, according to Evans, the amount that the teachers receive "is woefully inadequate and members of the Board have all agreed that it should be increased immediately to allow this category of teachers to live a better life."

Evans revealed that the salary subsidy ranges from a low of $14,000 to a maximum of $25, 000 per month based on the qualification of each educator. Evans pointed out that in most instances, this is the only income teachers of the majority of the schools are guaranteed.

Evans, who is also vice-president of the Jamaica Early Childhood Association, said that the salary subsidy should not be below the minimum wage at the lower end, and above $30,000 monthly for qualified teachers.

He recalled that from 2008, the association has been bringing the matter to the attention of the Education Ministry and is yet to receive what it considers a favourable response.

"It is now full time for the ministry to recognise the plight of the country's basic school teachers and to show some recognition for this category of teachers for the important role they have been playing in the building of this nation," Evans said.

He further lamented that some teachers who have met the requirements and who have been approved within the last two years are yet to receive the salary subsidiary.

Evans said that while most basic schools were developed as community-run learning institutions, "the fact is that due to economic and other difficulties, most of these communities are failing to carry out their responsibilities and have left some of these schools struggling to keep their doors open."

The JECA vice-president argued that despite the poor state of the finances in Jamaica, "the education of children, especially at the early childhood level, cannot be sacrificed for any other area of development."

Evans said that Education Minister Ronald Thwaites "has completely ignored the basic schools and is focusing his attention on infant schools." However, he said, the minister should be reminded that while there are nearly 3, 000 basic schools, the country has less than 100 infant schools which will not be able to accommodate the thousands of children now attending basic schools.

"The minister is telling us that every child must learn, but the inequities in our education system, especially at the early childhood level, will not allow this dream to become a reality," Evans concluded.

In the meantime, Joyce Nelson Lindsay, president of the Early Childhood Staff Association, said the organisation would like to have a meeting with the education minister to discuss the plight now faced by the teachers.

"We hope to sit and have a one-on-one talk with the minister," she stated.

The association head said that teachers at the basic school level should be lauded for the sacrifice that many make in ensuring that children are educated, in spite of not receiving a salary for several months.

"People should see us as heroines and heroes instead of castigating us as not being qualified," she stated.

Nelson Lindsay in a telephone interview with the Sunday Observer said that some teachers are now leaving the system because they are finding it difficult to manage financially.

"It is so sad that it is that bad," she said.

"I know of a teacher who has left the classroom and has gone to sell in the market," she explained, "It is not that teachers don't love their jobs, but they can't manage. We have to shop in the same places that other people shop; our tin of milk is not any less," she said.

Nelson Lindsay said that many teachers were finding it difficult to pay their bills and to meet even their basic needs.

"How do we manage? Teachers cannot pay rent. There are times when the school salary is not available because parents are not paying the fees," she said.

She explained that there are some teachers who get as low as $8,000 as salary subsidy and have to contend with that for their salary, as the school cannot afford to pay anything.

"Eight thousand dollars and change ... it's a game they are playing," she added.

She stated that some teachers are able to earn an income through other means, but for the majority, that is not the case.

While Evans put the date at 2007, Nelson Lindsay said that she was not aware of an increase since 2005.

"I am calling on the minister to look on the plight of the teachers and to do something about it...they need to level the playing field," she argued.

She said that the association expected the system to have improved in recent times; however, things have been getting worse.

According to her, teachers are upgrading themselves, but it does pay off for them as the present system is only prepared to pay for one trained teacher in an institution. As a result, teachers are leaving the system.

While older teachers have been accommodating in spite of the situation, she warned that the younger teachers may not be so accommodating, and that children will suffer in the long run.

Nelson Lindsay also lamented that retired teachers too faced a challenge, as many do not have a pension plan.

The National Insurance Scheme has proven to be inadequate for many, she further stated. According to her, on many occasions, teachers pool resources to help their retired colleagues. However, they are finding it very difficult to do so in the harsh economic climate.

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