Partnership and a meeting of minds needed to stem brain drain
Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) President Winston Smith (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

For as long as any Jamaican can remember the migration of the qualified and skilled has presented a difficulty for this country.

In the current heated debate about migration of teachers, the problem is either extreme or moderate, depending on who is speaking.

Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) President Mr Winston Smith says hundreds of teachers will not be returning to classrooms when schools reopen early next month, having left for better-paying jobs abroad.

Education Minister Mrs Fayval Williams says there is no cause for alarm and that the situation appears to be no worse than in previous years.

Opposition spokesman on education Mr Damion Crawford highlights the migration of specialist mathematics, science, and technology teachers as the foremost challenge.

Says Mr Crawford: "[W]hile [teacher] attrition of three per cent is not alarming... 16, 20, 40 per cent from mathematics, and 70 per cent from technical subjects is of great concern."

That problem, which is not new, is probably the crux of the matter.

Mr Crawford's suggestion that the Ministry of Education seek to re-engage retired teachers and provide free teacher training for interested university students during the summer break shouldn't be ignored.

Also, Mr Smith's recommendation that school administrators (read principals) make more of an effort to reach out to their teachers makes sense.

Said he: "Rather than being dictatorial... have more of a dialogue with your staff... Join them in the struggle rather than send them in the struggle. It may mean that some of us, as principals, may have to do some teaching... Let us do it so our classroom teachers will know that we are in this together, and it's not them versus us..."

While we do not support Mr Smith's suggestion that the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) Bill should be paused or replaced, we wholeheartedly support his lobby for education infrastructure development. It is appalling that close to half a century since the shift system was first introduced to increase access to education for the nation's poorest, it still exists in some schools because of an inadequacy of classroom space.

We can only imagine the frustration of educators who must deal with that stressful system derisively dismissed in the folk culture as "half-day school".

Yet, for all the challenges, we dare not ignore the budgetary realities.

Take, for example, the suggestion that as part of the effort to keep teachers in Jamaica their children "should be given the opportunity to study free of cost right up to a first degree..." That sounds good.

But what of the children of other absolutely essential workers, equally stressed out and underpaid, such as health specialists who are also leaving in droves and security force personnel?

There is no easy solution to the migration of teachers and other essential workers whose skills and expertise are much in demand elsewhere, and whose remittances let's not forget assist economic stability.

It requires a frank, open meeting of minds by all concerned. And, yes, Mr Smith is correct — though he was speaking only for teachers — this newspaper believes the private sector should be prepared to join with Government, in partnership, to find solutions.

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