Ronald Mason, Contributor
There is an old bumper sticker extolling the value of a teacher. 'If you can read this, thank a teacher'. It is so true, but one must, in the context of Jamaica, question how applicable the bumper sticker would be.
When one has to have an expenditure of billions of Jamaican dollars for substitute teachers each school year, one will ask who taught the student to read. There are too many substitutes in our classrooms. This results in a lack of discipline or respect between the teachers and students. The teachers in Jamaica are no longer expatriates who have been to teach in a hot, tropical climate in poor physical structures, learn a new method of communicating in Patois, be subjected to pit toilets and the lack of running water, and having to leave behind family members critical to their well-being.
This is what formed part of the underpinning of the agreement to provide such a vacation package that our teachers are now enjoying. A teacher in the service for five years gets four months paid vacation. A teacher in the service for 10 years gets eight months paid vacation. What craziness?
In this country, the education outcome, as judged by the number of high-school students who pass five subjects at CXC - mathematics, English and three others - is very poor. It is very noteworthy that the trends are positive for the passes in mathematics and English. This must be encouraged and allowed to further improve.
The recent National Education Inspectorate report, though, does not provide much support for the likelihood of continued progress. When the Jamaica Teachers' Association speaks of the single largest contribution to the poor state of education being in the home, the impression is left that the family life of our students has significantly deteriorated in recent times. I have seen no data to support this.
The committed, well-trained teacher is a valuable national treasure. Unfortunately, observation supports the conclusion that we have too few of these. The JTA, being the militant trade union, hell-bent on maintaining the feather bed comfort which the society can no longer afford is only concerned with retaining four or eight months of paid vacation and the money owed to them.
Teaching as a calling
Teaching used to be seen as a calling. Women in my family, as well as friends, treated the profession with the pride it deserves. Pity this does not happen much any more. Since this is not so, why the resistance to pay for performance? The performance standards can be tailored to fit the realities of slow learners, late bloomers and troubled children. Where one accepts that education is a process designed to fashion a better contributory citizen, this cannot be too difficult to establish. Our teachers are sadly lacking.
It is not solely the type of person who ends up being in charge of an education process. The teachers' colleges are perceived to be the weakest link in the tertiary training chain. Persons are admitted to colleges who have run out of other options because of their own academic deficiencies. One must question the value of having a teacher of mathematics who did not pass the subject at the high-school level. Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. This cannot be good for students with limited home support, as their parents were also miseducated by the same failing system. Yet the teachers are still blaming the home environment.
The long-term commitment to a superior education system must be founded on the necessity to make deep changes. Education must be respected, accountable, competent and adequately rewarded. Entry to the profession must compete with others. The rigours of training are just as demanding and the remuneration equally satisfying. We must also stop the 'gaming' of the system by way of unqualified, politically tainted school boards, warlike union leadership, taking taxpayer-funded study leave to become better qualified to leave the profession, not to climb the teaching ladder of educational success.
The teachers are most defensive of their position. The country and its most vulnerable citizens, the school population, must be treated with the focus they need. The current 26,000 numbers of the JTA should not be allowed to continue the unproductive, militant stranglehold they now exercise.
The minister of education is culpable in the miseducation of this current student population. Negotiations with the JTA are the preferred method to resolve disputes. However, Minister Thwaites needs to take the Education Code to Parliament for a revision. If he needs cover, look to the IMF agreement, which has some specifics therein.
The country needs to have the pandering come to an end. Use the savings from the Education Code revision to pay teachers who are accountable and deliver. Fire the laggards. Understand this, Minister: The process will be acrimonious, but you cannot continue to accommodate this level of mediocrity. The country needs better. Time come.