Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Open teachers closed on study pay

Published:Thursday | September 3, 2015 | 9:00 AM

Ronnie Thwaites ought to be commended for the persistence with which he is pursuing the education reform, not least for his attempt to align the deployment of teachers with their areas of competence and specialisation. But the pace at which he proceeds, the education minister often reminds, is tempered by the constraints built into the island's education code.

While we await the overhaul of the code - the legal framework for which appears to be on the second rung of the Government's legislative agenda - Mr Thwaites might accelerate his project attempting end runs around the teaching establishment. One potential way is to widen the group, beyond existing teachers, which is eligible for education ministry scholarships.

Part of the problem now faced by Mr Thwaites is that while teachers are paid by the central ministry, they are contracted to individual schools that are subject to the discreet oversight of specific boards of governors. That means teachers can't be automatically transferred from one school to the other to meet existing needs. One result of this is that there are up to 2,800 teachers in Jamaican publicly paid schools operating outside their areas of competence, or in otherwise ill-defined roles, while their skills could be more adequately used in other schools.

This is a very thorny problem to address; the other is less so.

It used to be the case that after two years of employment, teachers, if they applied, were allowed up to a full year's study leave with pay, plus another without pay. It didn't matter what the teachers studied, and/or how relevant it was to the needs of their schools or the education system. Many teachers opted for new qualifications that would find them employment outside education.

Yet, in addition to the leave they got, the Government would reimburse teachers up to half of the cost of their tuition as well as pay the substitutes who stood in during their absence. The bill for this is around half a billion dollars a year.

Over the past two years, Mr Thwaites has sought to establish the principle that study leave is not an absolute entitlement, but an opportunity at the discretion of the ministry. He sought to link the leave and tuition reimbursements to study in areas required by the education system.

Mr Thwaites should do something else. He should list the areas of priority for which the education system requires skills and use the money now available for tuition reimbursements to provide reimbursable scholarships, on a competitive basis, to all qualified Jamaicans. Winners would be bonded to teach or work anywhere in the education system based on their core competence and the requirement of the ministry.

A crisis of anger

The demand, we believe, is more than training police officers to deal with angry youth, which could well be an inadequate interpretation of the intended argument of psychologist Gemma Gibbon.

The more likely understanding is the depth and breadth of anger and devising interventions for its symptoms and pathologies, including in schools. The point is that we believe that there is an almost epidemic of anger in the Jamaican society, including in youth, and that the matter requires serious study.

Our attention is drawn to this issue by this week's stabbing of a policeman in the neck by a 17-year-old boy whose mother had summoned the peace officer to help quell a domestic quarrel. The boy appears to have a problem with anger management, for which he had had counselling, the quality or professionalism of which is not clear.

What seems obvious, though, is the inability of large swathes of Jamaicans to manage their anger. Too often, small disagreements lead to massive brawls and murder.