THE Opposition People's National Party is calling for a shake-up of the education ministry, suggesting that new energy and creativity at the policy level is needed in its leadership.
On Tuesday, at a PNP press conference, Opposition spokesman on education, Damion Crawford, outlined a slew of recommendations for the education sector, which he deems is in crisis, whilst strongly hinting at a need for change at the helm.
"You can change the person or the person can change, so if the minister at current is incapable to get greater vigour and vim and vitality as it relates to the management of the education system, if she is incapable to exert the energy and interest and excitement that it demands, then the minister needs to change. However, I believe that the first call is for the minister to understand and accept her need to change and indicate to the public that she can do better, and that she does not misunderstand the circumstances that face the education system. We are saying the minister either needs to be change, or be changed, depending on her ability to change," Crawford asserted.
The party further stated that it is alarmed at the nonchalance with which teacher migration is being treated, pointing to comments made by the education minister Fayval Williams in recent weeks about the implications for the education sector, come September.
"There is turnover in the sector, but to date, I'm not seeing where it's out of line with anything that we would have seen in other years. If that number changes as we move further into August, then it would be an update. I have not seen any numbers that would cause alarm at this time," Williams told the Jamaica Observer recently, in response to reports from the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) that teachers are leaving in droves yet again, with many more to go before the start of the new academic year.
Crawford argued that while the migration numbers may be within the global average, teachers quitting from specific parts of the education system, such as mathematics, is way above the global average.
"So while attrition of three per cent is not alarming, the continuous attrition of three per cent, and 16, 20, 40 per cent from mathematics, and 70 per cent from technical subjects, is of great concern. That is why we believe that hiding under the rocks is not the strategy, but creativity," he stated.
Among the recommendations made by the Opposition, some not new, are that staff rooms should be upgraded immediately, motor vehicle concessions of varying percentages should be provided to teachers serving five years or more in the public system, and students' loans should be reduced by five per cent for every year that teachers remain in the system.
The PNP is also pushing for arrangements to be made with telecoms companies to provide free broadband service to teachers as a necessary tool of trade, and deals negotiated with the private sector to offer teachers significant discounts.
Moreover, Crawford said it is time to reduce bureaucracy to allow principals to engage retired and pre-trained teachers to fill vacant posts in the short term and for free teacher training to be provided during the summer breaks to university students who are interested in the profession.
He reiterated that the ministry should consider enlisting political representatives to help find and return to the classroom students who have been out of school since March 2020.
"It seems as well necessary and important that we have individuals assigned within the community to identify those persons of age that are not participating â€” what the ministry first needs is information on how to find them and then the motivation to go and find them," he explained.
The spokesman also called for the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) to give an account of young girls who can't return to school due to pregnancy, abuse, or are distracted by "romantic relationships".
"That is why we were always against the reopening of jobs without the reopening of schools because when an adult is unavailable to take care of the child, when the adults that are available are not [of] the highest morals and values in the society, the disadvantage of our children has always been the outcome," he said.
In the meantime, the Opposition lamented what it says is silence from the ministry, a little over two weeks before the start of the new school year, while urging the Government to look at a shift system for teachers in order to mitigate teacher burnout.