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Editorial: Paying a high price in science, maths

Published:Wednesday | December 23, 2015 | 12:00 AM

It's getting a bit tired now. Despite our hope that the leadership of the Jamaica Teachers' Association would abandon its modus operandi to engage in chest-thumping, muscle-flexing, and arm-twisting, Norman Allen and his fellow unionists just won't learn.

The Government's announcement that it was considering differentiated payment for science and maths teachers had the reflexive Mr Allen bristling to reject the idea without, apparently, giving it any thought.

"Not because external forces are now taking away our maths and science teachers we are going to be reactive. We must treat with it in a wholesome way, recognising that all teachers, no matter what they teach, deserve more," Mr Allen told this newspaper.

And it is that bit of stunning illogic that convinces us that the teachers' union president needs to go back to the blackboard.

For context, the germination of the proposal to pay maths and science teachers higher wages than their colleagues is grounded in Jamaica's appalling results in maths and some science subjects, particularly physics, and the need to woo competent teachers back into the classroom. Trends suggest that such expertise is being leached from the Jamaican education system because of the alluring alternative of far higher wages in the private sector locally, or in teaching or other jobs overseas.

Jamaica's development ambitions require a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce, particularly in fields involving cutting-edge technology and research. This is important on two fronts. Leadership of major infrastructure projects requires highly trained engineers, architects, surveyors and other professionals. And for businesses to achieve new, competitive heights, they will require savvy research and development expertise. Both scenarios demand workers who have strong academic antecedents in maths and science.

To suggest that every teacher in Jamaica's school system should, in Jamaica's grand developmental vision, be paid the same suggests that Mr Allen, and his band of supporters, may have got their maths wrong.

Incorporating a regime of differentiated pay will be a tough pill to swallow and requires rigorous analysis and consultation before implementation. But the world will not wait on Jamaica forever.