Teachers staying put

GIVEN a fillip by a reduction in the number of teachers resigning from the public sector, Education Minister Fayval Williams is pulling out all the stops to ensure there is no teacher problem in the classrooms at the start of the new school year.

Williams used a post-Cabinet media briefing on Wednesday to outline a number of measures which are being implemented by her ministry to ensure there is no shortage of teachers come September.

“We are in a much better place this year relative to last year regarding resignations,” Williams told the media briefing.

“If you look at teacher resignations, looking at the period January 2023 to September 2023…427 teachers resigned, that is approximately 1.7 per cent of the total teachers in the public system. When we compare that against the similar period last year…1,538 teachers resigned representing approximately 6.2 per cent,” added Williams even as she noted that the number of teachers going on lone vacations — four months or eight months — is more this year than last year.

“We have to put strategies in place to manage that as well but we are delighted with where we are…as we look at the number of teachers that are retained in the sector,” declared Williams.

She pointed to a number of strategies, some already announced, which have been outlined to principals and school boards to address any shortage of teachers.

These include allowing school boards to conduct early recruiting of teachers to fill any vacancies.

“Meaning they don’t have to wait on the ministry. Pre-approval has been granted for the replacement of teachers in clear vacancies and those in temporary posts funded by the Ministry of Education and Youth,” said Williams.

School boards have also been given permission to engage some teachers who are on approved vacation leave and paying them for the period while also paying them for their vacation.

“What is good about this as well is that teachers [on vacation] can teach at other schools, they don’t have to teach in the schools to which they are attached. Principals as well who are going off on their long leave can be retained as well but not as a principal. They can teach in their school…or they can teach in another school,” noted Williams.

Other strategies reiterated by Williams include the extension of service of teachers who are scheduled to retire and the provision for schools to engage part-time teachers or those who had retired since January 2018.

Williams noted that schools have also been given permission to engage pre-trained teachers with at least a first degree in areas of their expertise and they can employ final-year teachers in recognised teaching colleges.

The new measures announced by Williams include a scheme where schools which are unable to attract teachers for some subjects can get approval from the ministry to enter into a contractual arrangement with virtual schools, such as One and One Educational Services, to access the remote/replacement teachers.

Williams said this has been dubbed the teacher availability solution and will allow secondary schools to avail themselves of what is described as a “classroom in a box device” and will include an 86-inch interactive screen with Internet connection, UPS for power back-up and a teacher aide in the classrooms.

“The school will have access to expert teachers for multiple subject areas based on their needs and even in cases where employed teachers are absent from work or on approved leave, this facility is available to the school at no additional cost,” said Williams.

Williams also pointed to a number of teachers who should be available to public schools this year. This includes 88 student teachers who are expected to graduate under her ministry’s scholarship programme this year.

These scholarship teachers are bonded to the public school system for the next five years. The public school system will also be boosted by 68 Cuban teachers who have been contracted to teach Spanish, chemistry, mathematics and physics.

The education minister also repeated that more than 1,100 specialist teachers will be graduating from teacher’s colleges this year and they should be entering the sector.