Winston Smith has recommended partnerships and free schooling, up to the tertiary level, for educators' children, as carrots that can be offered to retain Jamaica's teachers.
"Say to the nation, education shall be the priority, and we are going to invest a significant amount of funds, time, resources... in education which includes infrastructural development, safety and security, provision of proper food for children, safe transportation, and pay our teachers better. We must make a concerted effort to push education in a positive way," Smith, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), said in an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer on Monday.
Celebrating teachers, he added, would also encourage them to stay in the education system
"These will require partnership with the private sector, so it's not just a public sector thing. I am suggesting a joint public/private partnership to make education the single most priority of the nation and, having done that, we will be on a path of success," he said.
Advocating better opportunities for educators' children, he said they "should be given the opportunity to study free of cost right up to a first degree. Our target is to retain our teachers, to come up with a policy to say 'Teachers, 'as long as you remain, teacher, your children have to benefit.'"
Smith also suggested developing another initiative, temporarily, in place of the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) Bill.
"Change the whole pursuit of the JTC Bill, not abandon it, but put it on pause and replace it with an education infrastructure development Bill, so you decide how you're going to fix education to make it more attractive and a priority, because right now we are struggling to attract young, bright minds in the teachers' colleges," he said.
"We have to look at the long-term gain; we can't be myopic. If we do not do something to stem the flow of teachers out of the country what will happen to the country? It is either going to cost you in making your country more literate and productive, or cost you in spending money to remedy a bad situation," he said.
Smith also encouraged teachers who have remained in the island to persevere in the education system although many of their colleagues have left the country.
"Don't be depressed or distressed by the migration of your colleagues. We know it's going to be harder work on you, because if administrators are not able to find adequate teachers to fill the void it may just mean that we have to double our efforts. That will create more burnout. Take care of self and do the best you can under the circumstances," he said.
At the same time, he urged school administrators to recognise the tough realities of the education system and be more supportive of the teachers.
"Rather than being dictatorial, if that's how you would operate, have more of a dialogue with your staff. Get your staff to understand what is happening and meet with them. 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. It's not what I would like, but if that's what we have to do to make our teachers feel better, then as administrators, let us do it so our classroom teachers will know that we are in this together, and it's not them versus us," he added.