The gloves are off

SEEMINGLY stung by recent criticisms of her ministry, Fayval Williams has decided to punch back with her first target being those who have been spreading incorrect information about the anomalies in the payment to teachers following the recent compensation review.

“When we have mischief in the system we have to deal with it head-on,” declared Williams at a post-Cabinet media briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday.

That came some 24 hours after the education minister had issued a press release in which she responded to some of the individual claims by president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) La Sonja Harrison about incorrect payments to teachers over the past three months.

In the release on Tuesday, Williams paid particular attention to an allegation that a Westmoreland-based teacher had been paid $6.68 as salary in March, describing the claim by president of the Westmoreland Chapter of the JTA Kerry Ann Wolliston as “blatantly false”.

At the post-Cabinet media briefing, Williams continued her counter-offensive as she declared that whenever individual claims are made her ministry will research them and put its findings out in the public domain.

“We are tired of just the negatives around this, and the innuendos. We are tired of the false claims and we would like the president of the JTA Mrs La Sonja Harrison to bring us specifics,” said Williams, who had charged in her release on Tuesday that it was obvious that Harrison was not getting the full and correct information.

In that release, Williams alleged that it would appear that mischief abounds and that calls from Harrison to disrupt the education sector should be very carefully examined in light of the misinformation as demonstrated by her ministry.

“It does us no good for her [Harrison] to continue to speak in generalities. We can’t research a generality but we can research a particular teacher. We can look at the payslip of a teacher and try to answer the questions that the teacher may have,” said Williams as she reiterated additional instances where the ministry investigated claims by Harrison and found them to be short of information.

Williams refused to be drawn into a more comprehensive response on the state of the relationship between Harrison and herself, instead repeatedly pointing to the monthly meeting between officials of her ministry and the body representing the majority of the island’s teachers, where issues are discussed and efforts made to resolve them.

“Since I have been at the Ministry of Education and Youth I have prided myself with having a very cordial and professional relationship with the Jamaica Teachers’ Association. I take seriously the monthly meetings that are scheduled and I ensure that whatever issues come to the fore, research is done and we are able to respond at the next meeting.

“I respect the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, I respect the role that they play, but I just have to respond when there is mischief in the system. The ministry can’t be silent,” declared Williams.

“There are lots of negatives out there in social media. Mrs Harrison gets a lot of platforms on which to speak so the ministry has to respond to let Jamaica know the other side of the equation. We have to respond with what we know and if it isn’t so it just isn’t so, that’s where we are,” added Williams.

Earlier, Williams used her address to the post-Cabinet briefing to point to several achievements of the education ministry under her stewardship.

Among the gains pointed to by Williams were the addition of more than 1,000 teachers to the system last year, with an equal number expected to be added for the next school year, the thousands of lesson plans now available to teachers, the almost 800 teachers trained to be facilitators for coding lessons for students, and the more than 5,000 children now enrolled in ‘Brain Builder Centres’ (day cares) operated by the ministry.

“Since the start of this academic year in September last year many positive things have happened in the education sector, but you don’t always hear about them. We try to put them out but we don’t always see them duplicated in the media,” said Williams as she called on the media to emphasise the positive developments in the sector.