JTA says minister needs to back up promises with action

ROSE HALL, St James — Outgoing president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) Winston Smith has thrown down the gauntlet to Education Minister Fayval Williams, urging her to make good on Monday’s promised measures to stem the exodus of teachers from the country’s limping education sector. At the same time, he expressed personal gratitude to the minister for some of the proposed solutions she outlined during a press conference.

“I hope that it is not just pronouncements being made in the media, but the requisite bulletin is sent into the sector so that persons will have tangible proof to say, ‘Yes, here is the evidence; here is a legal document that we are using to guide our decision making’,” Smith told journalists on the sidelines of the JTA’s annual conference being held in Montego Bay.

Among Williams’ suggestions that found favour with the JTA was the green light for schools to continue recruiting trained teacher graduates with first degrees. Approximately 200 such graduates are expected from The University of the West Indies, University of Technology, Jamaica, and Northern Caribbean University.

“That pronouncement by the minister would be welcomed because if we have the opportunity now to go and recruit pre-trained graduates — persons who would have left the various universities and colleges, not necessarily trained in teaching — we will now be able to access that kind of content knowledge from those individuals, and it will help,” said Smith.

He expressed concern, however, that the benefits may not extend to all levels of the educational sector.

“The concern I have with that, though, is how do we fix the challenges at the primary level which carry a different skill set of requirements from those at the secondary level,” said Smith.

He was also cautious in reacting to the education minister’s announcement that school boards will be allowed to take on part-time teachers, including those who whose retirement are pending for September. Parents and teachers would need to be prepared for their return, he said.

“The concern we have is how students will respond to these teachers and work with them. So, we are saying to parents, ‘Get your children to understand that we are in a crisis situation and that we need these persons; so you need to show them respect. You need to treat them in a manner that will cause them to want to stay and to be encouraged to come out of retirement and help the education sector’. Because at the end of the day these teachers are the ones who would help your children to advance themselves academically,” stated Smith.

The JTA had sounded the alarm a few weeks ago that the country should brace for an exodus of teachers this year as more than 400 had already left to take up lucrative job opportunities in the United States. On Monday, Williams said 167 teachers had left their positions in the local school system over the past two months, adding that those figures could increase.

Smith is bracing for upheaval in the classrooms come September. He has appealed to parents to “be more understanding of the realities that will confront us when we go back to school”.

“Don’t go to school and make a big issue if teachers are not available, because administrators will have to take our time to understand the situation, take a grip on what is happening and seek to remedy the situation. Many of our administrators will not know or may not know until September morning and the gravity of the matter is before us. Neither does the Ministry of Education have all of the information and access available right now,” Smith told journalists on Monday.

As they wait for the final tally of slots to be filled, the Government has identified 964 specialist teachers who have just completed their studies and are now available for employment in the national school system.

“Among them are 67 mathematics teachers, 32 teachers of physics and chemistry and 17 with industrial education specialisation,” Minister Williams said on Monday. “We do have teachers coming in under the Jamaica/Cuba bilateral programme. We have 70 teachers there. We have a framework agreement with the Cuban Government under which we bring in these teachers into our system.”

Smith commended the minister for identifying solutions and providing school administrators with the support needed to “do whatever is necessary to get competent individuals in your classroom, in your school to help at this time to fix the educational challenge that we have”.

“I would personally say to the minister, ‘Thank you. Congratulations, well done’,” said Smith.

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