Despite measures put in place last summer in response to a massive exodus of teachers, Minister of Education Fayval Williams says she expects that there will be a shortage of educators in the next school year, especially for maths and science classes.
"Of course, there may be gaps as we go into the new school year, in terms of maths teachers, in particular, [and] science teachers; and we are exploring ways in which we can get some remedy towards that," the minister said Thursday afternoon.
She was speaking with the Jamaica Observer on the sidelines of the Ananda alert youth forum held at the Altamont Court Hotel in Kingston.
According to Williams, one way to bridge this gap is to improve technology integration in the classroom.
"Just recently, I was at Jamaica College. I went there to see a demo of a system whereby a master science teacher was having a class with some third-formers on the anatomy of the eye. The teacher is in the virtual space and students in the classroom, and there was a teacher's aide to facilitate the teacher that is teaching," she said.
"When I look at that model, we can see how we can couple technology and allow teachers in Kingston to teach students who are in the rural parts. Obviously in a classroom, you still need an adult, but at that point it could be a teacher's aide," she pointed out.
The education sector has for years been plagued by migration of teachers disillusioned by meagre salaries, under-resourced facilities and increasingly challenging students. Notwithstanding these and other issues the minister is hoping more Jamaicans will choose teaching as a career.
"We need to continue to encourage persons to attend our teachers' colleges and graduate to become teachers. Teaching is still a very noble profession and we will do all that we can to ensure that the upcoming school year is smooth as we can make it," she said.
"I think we had a very good start to the school year last year, and we are putting out more effort to ensure that our upcoming school year starts out smooth as well," she added.
Among the raft of measures put in place last summer to cauterise the gaps left in the system by the departure of educators was the flexibility to allow teachers to earn income from other jobs without jeopardising their existing employment status.
"It was allowed for a teacher who is on long leave, whether it's four months or eight months, to be hired back. And so the teacher receives two pays — pay for being on leave and coming back and working and getting paid for that. The Ministry of Finance and the Public Service allowed us to do that to help in the situation," Williams explained.
"There are a number of other measures that we put out, even to allow teachers who had gone on retirement; teachers who were one or two years out in terms of retirement to allow us to bring those teachers back. Those same measures will be in place," she continued.
The education ministry, she noted, is prepared for any possible teacher shortage at the start of the next school year.
"Every year we have to make preparations for the school year. We understand the global issue with regards to teacher migration and the fact that there are countries that are actively recruiting our teachers here," she said.
Minister Williams said she is also encouraged by the number of new teachers entering the local system.
"Additionally, what is important is that our teachers' colleges continue to turn out new teachers. Just recently, I was at the Mico University College where there was a full-day session, welcoming all the new teachers who had graduated from all the teachers' colleges – well over 1,000 new teachers," she noted.
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