Despite a renewed call from acting chief education officer in the Ministry of Education and Youth Dr Kasan Troupe for teachers to choose Jamaica in the wake of recent protests regarding the Government's new compensation reclassification reform and the subsequent delay in salary disbursement, the country can expect to see a new wave of teacher exodus at the start of the next academic year.
Teachers are fed up! They have sacrificed so much to aid in the development of the country, but is Jamaica choosing them?
Everybody has high expectations of teachers, and at times they are harshly criticised — some justly deserved — but whenever it comes to their working conditions and well-being, they are often treated with scant regard. And it is so easy for those who occupy high positions to bully teachers into accepting whatever directives and proposals passed down to them.
The late payment of salaries was quite unfortunate and lamentable. People have fixed monthly expenses that they need to cover; they also need money to commute to work and purchase meals. What is further upsetting is that many teachers saw a gross disparity in their retroactive salaries, especially since Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke had promised that they would not be penalised for the allowances they had already received. But several teachers have complained about the significant amounts that were subtracted from their retroactive pay.
As it is currently, the compensation reclassification package is still ambiguous and does not take into consideration certain levels of qualifications, seniority, and job functions. For example, removing the allowance for having a master's degree is basically discouraging teachers from furthering their studies. Yet, at the same time, the system wants teachers of the highest standard and quality. What is the sense of sacrificing hundreds of thousands of dollars to pursue graduate studies if there are no financial rewards? Likewise, if there is no meaningful difference between a junior teacher and a senior teacher or between a head of department and a vice-principal, what sense does it make for people to aspire or accept to serve in these posts? Furthermore, there seems to be a gross difference in compensation between a vice-principal and a principal. The perception arises again that this compensation review mainly benefits principals.
Interestingly, throughout the negotiation process, most of the attention seemed to have focused on teachers in the secondary school system and, to a lesser extent, those at the primary/early childhood level. But there was not much talk about the actual teacher trainers — lecturers — who prepare these graduates to educate the nation's children. They have now come to the realisation that no real lobbying took place for them, yet they choose to remain silent about it.
It is, however, not surprising that teachers do no engage in strong(er) protests. The teachers' college system is very conservative and there is this subtle competition among the individual colleges with regard to who can maintain and display the highest level of colonial mindset. We can be very docile for a so-called educated people. Even the president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association is very prudent in how she makes utterances calling for teachers to stand up for their rights. Madam President, please be more deliberate in your choice of words in your press releases. If we behaved like French protesters, perhaps we would get urgent attention and better working conditions. We cannot be this passive for teachers.
The Government needs to take stock of how they treat teachers and other public sector workers. Recent data revealed that over 1,500 nurses resigned from the public health system between 2019 and 2021. Similarly, several teachers have left the local system to take up more lucrative offers overseas. Several more teachers are planning to use their retroactive payments to finance their way to migrate from Jamaica for September. After all, patriotism cannot pay their bills.
There have been calls to raise the pass mark for the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams. Teachers also have a critical role to play in filling the gaps outlined in the Orlando-Patterson task force report on education; however, with an increasing number of some of our best teachers leaving, to what extent will these objectives be fulfilled?
Some people may argue that our tertiary institutions graduate thousands of students yearly. However, they do not take into consideration that the intake in the teachers' colleges has decreased dramatically since former Education Minister Ronald Thwaites pronounced gloom over the teacher profession in 2014. In addition, many of our young graduates do not stay in the profession for long and some do not enter it at all. Many of them have suffered so much in their childhood poverty-wise, so why should they continue in that condition as adults?
When they see that Jamaica is not choosing them, they run to countries that are coming to choose them. Increasingly, for instance, many Canadian and British immigration and recruiting agencies are coming to Jamaica themselves to offer exciting possibilities to our local professionals.
Graduates are told, "The world is your oyster." So they have opted to choose those who have chosen them.
Oneil Madden is interim chair/head of Department of Humanities and lecturer in language(s) and linguistics at Northern Caribbean University. He is also a PhD candidate in applied linguistics at Clermont Auvergne University, France. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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