Filling the gaps

Government is scrambling to ensure that it fills the gaps left by what is being called an exodus of teachers from Jamaican classrooms, which is expected to impact the sector in the upcoming school year.

The plan includes recruiting from 964 specialist teachers who have just completed their studies, 121 of whom benefited from the education ministry’s special scholarship programme and will be bonded to the Government for five years.

On Monday, Education Minister Fayval Williams stressed that replacement strategies are always in train, as attrition in the teaching profession is expected, and isn’t unique to the profession.

“There has been ongoing assessment, because we do have teachers’ movement at the end of the school year and during the year. We always have to ensure that we have replacement teachers. We know there is a percentage of teachers every year who decide to exit the teaching profession for one reason or another. So we do plan for a certain level of attrition, so the preparation is there and will continue to be there,” she stated, at a press conference called by the ministry in response to the growing cries of concern from various segments of the society about teacher migration and the impact it will have.

Williams said so far only 167 resignations have come to her desk since July. The Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) says the number of educators who won’t be returning in September is higher and climbing. The minister has been chastised by the parliamentary Opposition for not treating the situation as a crisis.

“Over the years we’ve seen some of our teachers make very personal decisions to migrate and those decisions we have to respect and to wish them well. Sorry to see them go, but we respect,” Williams stated.

She stressed that teachers are not only leaving to take up jobs in other countries, but some may be shifting to private institutions here as well.

“Some of the resignations that we’ve got may be due to migration, we do not know precisely, because our teachers are under no obligation to tell us why they are resigning; some do, some don’t. These resignations, we know, will affect the new school year as they are so close to the new school year. Obviously, resignations that would have happened in the last school year, many those would have been filled, so those would not be in this number. We are still getting information from our principals, so this 167 could change as we move to the end of August into September, and even up to that time, there may be resignations,” she outlined.

The education minister said secondary schools are already reporting a shortage in some subject areas, and boards are expected to respond accordingly.

She advised that the pool of 964 teachers expected to be available to work in the public school system include specialists in accounting, biology, math, physics, chemistry, English language, literature, and computer science. She said there are 11 early childhood education teachers included in the batch, as well as physical education teachers, and 259 primary education teachers specialising in foreign languages, and social studies.

Williams outlined other interventions, including giving principals pre-approval to appoint teachers where there are clear vacancies. This has been a sore point in the system over the years, with complaints that in some instances teachers have been waiting for years for appointments where there are clear vacancies.

“This will create greater efficiency in the system and reduce the time that it would take in terms of the back and forth [with] the ministry,” the minister noted.

She said school boards have also been authorised to request extensions for teachers whose retirement are pending for September, in order to fill spaces in secondary schools. This will be based on their last performance reports. Boards may also hire part-time teachers, including from the pool of teachers who retired as of January 2018.

Additionally, the ministry says it will engage approximately 200 pre-trained graduates, with first degrees, from The University of the West Indies, University of Technology, Jamaica, and Northern Caribbean University, in specialist areas.

“These are university teachers; they have first degrees, but not the teaching diploma,” she explained.

Final-year student teachers in accredited programmes will be allowed to fill areas of specialisation with special approval and justification. These teachers will be compensated in the same salary band as pre-trained teachers.

Furthermore, 70 teachers are expected to join the public school system under the Jamaica-Cuba bilateral teaching programme. This includes 59 Spanish teachers, five chemistry teachers, and three teachers each for mathematics and chemistry.

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