THE Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) has chastised the joint select parliamentary committee which is examining the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) Bill, for fixating on penalties and neglecting to focus on steps that will be taken to improve the profession to benefit both practitioners and students.
In addition, the JTA is pressing for a cap on the period for disciplinary hearings for teachers, and for such teachers to be paid while they are on interdiction.At a meeting of the committee on Thursday, dean of the Teachers’ Colleges of Jamaica, Garth Anderson argued that the proposed law does not address specific initiatives to fix the ills affecting teachers.
“This almost fixation on fines is sending the wrong signal. It is not a kangaroo court that we are seeking to set up, it’s a professional body that should advance the profession. We are not discussing incentives; we have spent much of our time on punitive measures. There is nothing about a teacher who is doing well, what will happen [to] that teacher, we are not even discussing what kind of support we are going to give to teachers to advance the profession, which is the intent of the bill. We, so far, have missed what are the concrete steps, things that will be done to advance the profession and support teachers in order to ensure that the quality of education we provide is catering to all our learners and the well-being of our teachers,” said Anderson, a past president of the JTA.
He emphasised that the teachers’ union was not against holding teachers accountable but that these accountability measures must be fair and just.The JTA was also adamant that teachers on interdiction should be compensated while they are off the job, and that a cap should be placed on the length of these proceedings.
“An individual may be on trial for years, because the law does not indicate a timeline within which the outcome must be handed down. Right now we have significant challenges with the teachers’ appeals tribunal where we have persons who are languishing for many years. For the fairness, once an individual is on trial then some consideration must be given for a residual income,” JTA Deputy Secretary General Clayton Hall stated.Government senator and senior trade unionist, Kavan Gale, threw his support behind the proposal, arguing that it’s only fair that, having been acquitted, teachers are not only reinstated, but compensated during the legal proceedings.
He also agreed with the teachers’ push for dual accountability for teachers and those who hire them to ensure that they are duly licensed. Gayle said including this provision would stymie issues in the system such as nepotism.
Attorney for the JTA, Julian Mowatt pointed to other pieces of legislation, such as the Road Traffic Act, which places a similar obligation on employers to ensure that persons hired to operate motor vehicles have the requisite licences.
At the same time, Hall pointed out that a distinction must be made between a person who deliberately practises without a licence and those whose licences may have expired.
“An individual whose licence has expired, whether deliberately or unknowingly, would be teaching without a licence, and that individual ought not to be treated as someone who deliberately and actively set out to deceive,” he stressed.
The teachers argued, too, that the maximum $500,000 penalty affixed to the offences of: teaching without a licence; pretending to have a licence; and obtaining a licence by fraud, misrepresentation, and aiding and abetting; or giving false information to the council, should be proportional to fit the offences.
“What is suggested by the same quantum [of fines] being affixed to all three categories of offences is that they are of the same weight and we believe they are not, and so the penalties that are affixed to each should match the seriousness of the offence. That concept is not foreign to the jurisdiction,” Mowatt stated.The proposal is for the $500,000 maximum fine to be retained for the most egregious offences of fraud, and giving false information to the council, while pretending to have a licence should attract a maximum fine of $300,000, and practising without a licence $200,000.