FACE-OFF
Teaching Council Bill provisions spark confrontation between educators and legislators

The union representing the majority of the island’s teachers, and legislators all but clashed on Thursday over a number of provisions in the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) Bill, as leaders in the profession stood their ground on concerns with the proposed law in the face of equally staunch defence from the education minister and other Government Members of Parliament.

The main impasse arose over the definition of teacher, and specific academic requirements to continue in, or enter the profession.

Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) President Winston Smith told the Jamaica Observer following a marathon sitting of the joint select committee reviewing the Bill that if it took effect now 3,258 specialist teachers would be affected, along with 5,840 in the early childhood sector and 24 from Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.

In a detailed review of the Bill, the JTA questioned whether the intent was to rid the profession of pre-trained teachers en masse, given that most, if not all, basic school teachers do not have a bachelor’s degree the proposed starting point for entry into the profession.

Smith asserted that the definition of teacher would “wipe out” all teachers who now only hold a diploma. “If this Bill, in its current form, is allowed to go through it will in effect remove the persons with a teaching diploma, the person who has qualifications from the VDTI (Vocational Training Development Institute), and persons with certificates in education. This Bill, if enacted, would remove those persons the minute it is signed into law,” he told the committee chaired by Education Minister Fayval Williams.

The JTA president insisted on the point after the education minister warned against sending the wrong signal to the country.

Jamaica Teachers’ Association President Winston Smith addressing the joint select committee reviewing the Jamaica Teaching Council Bill in Parliament on Thursday.

“When you characterise this Bill as doing that, you are sending a very wrong signal to Jamaica. This is the headline that is going to be out there on this Bill. You know that’s not the intent of the Bill and when you telegraph that to Jamaicans and to other teachers, I have to wonder what is the underlying message that you want teachers to get,” Williams said, eliciting howls of protest from Opposition senator Lambert Brown.

The legislators and the teachers debated over section 24 of the Bill, which criminalises the practice of teaching without a licence, and defines a teacher as a person who has successfully completed a bachelor’s degree in education or its equivalent, or a first degree with a post-graduate diploma in education in an educational teaching programme recognised in the country in which the person is qualified.

Attorney Julian Mowatt, who made the JTA’s oral submission, said the legislation is in conflict with the realities of teachers on the ground, arguing that the definition of teacher in the provision may present a constitutional breach. She said if the intent is to get rid of pre-trained teachers, then it should be done in a fair and equitable manner.

“We need to bear in mind that these people were functioning within the system before the passage of the legislation, so if that is not wholesale gutting of the profession, I don’t know what is,” she stated, stressing that the JTA’s argument is in relation to teachers who are already in the system and performing satisfactorily.

Mowatt argued that if the law is unilaterally applied without reference to the teachers and their contracts, it could be in contravention of the constitution, which requires due process in such matters.

Former state minister for education Floyd Green was adamant that the educators were incorrect in their position.

“It is not factual that this will wipe out teachers in the classroom now, it is untrue, because provisions have been made for everybody who is now in the classroom [to] qualify under the Act. If the Act is passed now, all the people who are in classrooms providing instructions, there is a designation under which they could apply,” he said, also arguing that the criminal offences in the Act do not criminalise the profession as a whole.

The legislation provides for a transition period of 12 months, but the JTA fears there would be a period of dysfunction in the education system while teachers scramble to attain authorisation to teach from the teaching council, and to upgrade their qualifications. The teachers’ association has asked that pre-trained teachers be given six years to attain qualification.

JTA Deputy Secretary General Clayton Hall pointed out, “No programme of study in education lasts for a year. The simple act of being enrolled [may] not happen until the next year; by that time one calendar year would have passed.”

Hall also insisted that, for teachers who will find themselves outside of the system, the law should grant them interim licences or authorisation to teach, during the transition period.

Section 29 of the Bill gives underqualified teachers the opportunity to apply to the JTC for authorisation to teach, a provision with which the JTA also foresees serious problems. It says many teachers would be out of jobs while they seek this authorisation, which must be supported by a submission from their employers stating that they are unable to engage a qualified teacher. Added to that, the council must be convinced that the teacher without a degree possesses skills that are in short supply on the teaching market.

Attorney Julian Mowatt making the JTA’s oral submission to the joint select committee reviewing the Jamaica Teaching Council Bill in Parliament on Thursday.<strong id="strong-7">a</strong>
BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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