Recently the Minister of Education Fayval Williams published data with respect to teacher migration.
According to the minister, a total of 854 teachers have resigned between January and September 2023, and this represented a 44 per cent reduction when compared to a similar period last year. The data from the Ministry of Education (MOE) show that a total of 593 primary, early childhood, and special education teachers as well as guidance councillors and 530 secondary level subject teachers will be potentially available to take up teaching posts in the system this year.
Poor Management of Teacher Migration Crisis
Principals, teachers, and even the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) have been saying for some time now that a crisis of teacher migration/teacher shortage is looming. Yet the MOE continues to bury its head in the sand. It is clearly trying to downplay the concerns and their impact on the education system by giving the impression that the crisis is not as bad as many stakeholders have been saying for some time now. Such a narrative creates a significant trust deficit between the MOE, on the one hand, and stakeholders, particularly principals and teachers, and erodes confidence in the ministry.
The minister has quoted data on teacher resignations from January to September 2022 and compared that data for a similar period over 2023. Firstly, the minister is quoting teacher resignation data for 2023 up to September 2023 when that period has not yet been completed. Furthermore, a number of these vacant positions would not have been filled due to the chronic shortage of teachers. In fact, in an effort to bridge this gap, many principals would have either merged classes, redeployed current teachers to substitute, or put additional sessions on other teachers' timetables. This has invariably led to a significant increase in teacher burnout, low staff morale, and higher levels of teacher absenteeism. The net result of this would have been a decline in the level of teacher productivity.
Furthermore, some of those vacancies, over the course of January to May 2023, that were filled would have been filled by third- and fourth-year students from teachers' colleges, retired teachers, and teachers who would have opted for locum tenon. Therefore, the ministry's argument that 1,123 teachers will be leaving the teacher's colleges and will be available for employment in the system is flawed since many of these teachers would have already been employed during the last academic year.
To date, the MOE has yet to publish disaggregated data with respect to teacher resignation. For example: How many of these resignations are from STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) teachers? How does this compare to the data with respect to teachers who have recently retired and may want to come back into the system or final-year student teachers who were not employed over the course of last academic year? How many third- and final-year student teachers were already employed over the course of last academic year? It is these types of disaggregated data that will give us the clearest indication as to what is happening on the ground. I refuse to believe that the MOE does not have this data available at its fingertips.
The MOE's decision to publish data on teacher migration for only January to September of the entire calendar year seems void of a rationale. This technically covers two terms over an academic year and goes into a new term in another academic year. It would have made far more sense if the ministry published teacher resignation data covering the entire academic year.
The MOE's response
The MOE's response to the issue of teacher migration must also come under much-needed scrutiny. There are two basic responses to the issue of teacher migration â€” either the Government seeks to replace classroom teachers who are migrating or retain them. Alternatively, there can be a combination of both strategies. Whilst they have not clearly stated what the strategy is, it is obvious that the MOE is seeking to replace the teachers. This, however, comes with significant challenges and disadvantages.
Firstly, it will require a strategic response from teachers' colleges, in terms of increasing the matriculation rate, particularly for the critical STEM areas. However, many teacher training institutions will tell you that there has been a decline in the number of students applying to get into these institutions.
Secondly, many of the teachers who are leaving the Jamaican education system are our premium teachers who would have spent anywhere between four and 10 years in the system and are between the ages of 25-45 years old. Time would have been spent developing their skill sets and pedagogy and would have benefited tremendously from numerous staff empowerment sessions, retreats, and training and guidance from the schools' senior and middle managers. They would, therefore, have been performing at an optimal level if they had remained in the education system.
You cannot simply replace teachers of this calibre overnight. It takes time and years to do so. Whilst they help in mitigating the impact of teacher resignation and notwithstanding their years of experience, which they can leverage, many retirees, if we are being honest, will not be able to keep up with the physical exigencies that the job of a teacher demands in most of our schools. At the end of the day, the strategy of replacing teachers in the way that the MOE has gone about it will collectively lead to teacher quality being significantly compromised. Lest we forget, there is a direct correlation between teacher quality and student performance.
Orlando Patterson Report
What this Government fails to understand is that it will cost less in the long run if we adopt a policy of seeking to retain our teachers. One of the key recommendations for the transformation of the education system was the need for the Government to properly incentivise the teaching profession. Several practical recommendations were made that the Government may do well to adopt.
The treatment teachers received during the compensation review really left a bitter taste in many teachers' mouths. It is, therefore, no wonder that many are leaving our shores for what they believe are greener pastures.
In addition to this, the 2021 Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report on school financing in Jamaica recommended that remote inducement allowance/hardship allowance be expanded in order to provide incentives for high-performing teachers to take up posts in disadvantaged schools. This recommendation was in acknowledgment of the fact that disadvantaged schools in rural and urban settings are challenged by teacher shortages, recruitment, and retention. Despite this, Dr Nigel Clarke, minister of finance, who up to recently was the chairman of the IDB, presided over the grandfathering of remote inducement allowance from the system during the recently concluded compensation review.
It is clear that the first major storm that Jamaica will be experiencing this season is "Hurricane Teacher Migration". The MOE and, by extension, the Government of Jamaica need to acknowledge that teacher migration is an existential threat to our education system and bring the entire government apparatus to treat with the crisis. It will require the collective efforts of the MOE, Office of the Prime Minister, and Ministry of Finance to develop medium- and long-term solutions and change the narrative around the crisis.
First, the MOE should commission a study to ascertain the push factors for teacher migration. Second, steps must be taken to immediately implement the recommendations contained in both the Orlando Patterson and IDB reports on school financing, with respect to incentivising the teaching profession. Third, the Government must engage in discussions with those countries that are the main recruiters of our teachers to come up with bilateral solutions. Fourth, the MOE should implement a Grow Your Own Talent programme in which up to two STEM scholarships for students to attend teachers' college are provided per high school annually for the next five years. These schools will then have first preference to employ the awardees from their respective schools upon completion of their training, with the second preference going to schools within that specific quality education circle.
Mark Malabver is principal of Yallahs High School.