The Ministry of Education and Youth will be embarking on a plan to increase the existing pool of Master Teachers as one way of offering an additional incentive to those who are qualified to be in that category and capable of performing at that level.
Responsible minister, Fayval Williams confirmed that the Master Teacher concept in schools would be “revived in a bigger way”.
“Though it would not be sufficient to counter the exodus of teachers to classrooms in North America for higher salaries and financial rewards, the upgraded Master Teacher programme, is expected, will address a need within the profession,” Williams related to the Jamaica Observer in a midweek interview.
“Traditionally, there has been brain drain because in Jamaica we do have a robust teacher training programme, and other countries find our teachers attractive enough to recruit them. But we are aware of that and so we've been looking at reviving in a bigger way the Master Teacher concept. It existed in the education system for some while now, but when I ask how many math teachers are there, for example, I was shocked.
“I note just the small number that we have, and we've been having the discussion around elevating that to a different level.
“So, if you don't want to be a principal you can be a Master Teacher in your field and we need more experts in the different fields because then it will make the teaching and learning experience more fulfilling for both the teacher and the student. That's a conversation that needs to be completed, but that has been recognised and started,” said the minister, who is also Member of Parliament for St Andrew Eastern.
Naturally, there would be budgetary implications in implementing a broader Master Teachers' Programme, but Williams said that it is something that preparations will be made for.
“For one, you'll be increasing the pool of Master Teachers, and because it is a career path there would be some budgetary implications. That's why you have to look at it for the long haul and increasing as we go along while ensuring that it's a sustainable career path for teachers who want to go that way.”
She said that, additionally, in primary schools, literacy [and] numeracy were being shored up, which will mean that specialist teachers will be placed in those schools.
“Over the decades we used the model of one teacher teaching everything in primary schools. Whether you liked the subject area or not, you're in the classroom and you're teaching it.
“A couple years ago, the ministry would've sent a delegation to Singapore, a country whose education system we aspire towards, and one of the strategies they use there is the specialist teachers earlier on in the life of the students. So we piloted that and we are rolling that out across our schools. This semester we would be in about 238 schools, thereabout, and we will continue that.
“There are eight subject areas that we would've identified specialists in after doing the skills inventory of teachers across the system. We have great hopes for that initiative. So, for example, primary schools, if there is a math teacher who loves math, that teacher will be teaching math from grade one to six; that teacher would understand whether the students are learning the concept or not. We think it's a better way to go than what we've been doing in the past,” the minister reasoned.
She said that, under such a system, primary school students will find it easier to transition to high schools, which already has specialist teachers, “and so”, Williams said excitedly, “you're not coming from an environment in primary school where you're just used to seeing your one teacher and suddenly you're in this environment where you have to figure out your schedule and move around and do all of that.
“So we think that will aid the transition as well, but the more important thing is that we're expecting better outcomes in each subject areas,” she argued.
As to whether or not it was likely that the lure of the North American currencies could result in major importation of teachers from other countries, the minister said such a move would not be necessary, although a small number of teachers, like those from Cuba, may be accommodated in the system.
“Importation of teachers will not be done on a wholescale basis. We do use, in a limited way now, teachers from Cuba. When I look down the road I don't see us importing teachers because there is still a high interest in teaching in Jamaica and with the efforts that we're making, the changes that we're making, we believe that it will even become a more attractive profession.
“You would've probably read in the commission's report that was just published, one of their high priority items is the legislation for the Jamaica Teaching Council Bill to professionalise the teaching industry. It creates a regime for teachers to be licensed. First of all they have to be fit and proper; you have to have a certain level of certification, academic achievements to get into the profession, and while you're there you have to ensure that you renew your licence every five years.
“The criteria with that is the need for continuing education and professional development of the teachers. The Bill is aimed at elevating the profession called teaching in the minds of Jamaicans. If you can recall, years ago teachers were respectful right across Jamaica. I believe we've lost some of that, but we can regain it by ensuring that we have the proper legislative environment that those who enter are of the highest calibre and conduct. We see it in other professions that happen. So in the legal profession there's a body that ensures that those who are coming in are fit and proper with the right passes in their exams and so on,” Williams said.