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Jaevion Nelson: More money won't keep teachers in the classroom

Published:Thursday | December 31, 2015 | 12:00 AMJaevion Nelson, Contributor

There has been much debate of late about the number of teachers who are leaving the classroom for supposedly more lucrative teaching opportunities in England, where a qualified teacher earns at least £22,244 or £27,819 if you are in inner London. 

One solution proffered is to pay mathematics and science teachers more to keep them in the classroom. Are they the only ones leaving? Increasing salaries for some subject teachers would only be practical if all that mattered to our teachers was the amount of money they earn (don't misconstrue the Jamaica Teachers' Association's strident advocacy for better pay). The problem is much more multifaceted than that.

A friend who taught at a public school for nine years and left to teach at a private school said, in addition to the salary, the decision was because of poor leadership and lack of vision and accountability (this is mentioned in countless NEI reports!). Teachers in public schools face myriad challenges, like the fact that student-centred learning is difficult, teachers are not empowered to do their tasks, micromanagement which hinders the growth of teachers and development of students reigns supreme (hello politically and religiously constituted boards), and, of course, class size, and limited resources. These are conditions that will cause 'any teacher to become frustrated'. It's important to note that this is not right across the board as teachers in schools might not necessarily face these issues.

It's appalling that we are hurriedly discussing ways to remedy the problem when we aren't fully apprised of the situation with our teachers. It might be prudent to administer a survey with teachers who leave to take up teaching jobs overseas. Strangely, we haven't been asking, as much as we should, why are our teachers being recruited. According to Geoff Brown, the director of Hourglass Education, who came to Jamaica on a few occasions on 'a mass recruitment drive', "endless schools are advertising and not getting any applicants whatsoever", so they have resorted to recruiting in "prize places" overseas (i.e., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Jamaica). They love to recruit our teachers because when "you get a Jamaican, he or she is here [in the UK] for life".

 

EXODUS FROM SCHOOLS

The UK has what is described by The Guardian as 'an exodus from schools'. Christine Bowler, the general secretary for the UK National Union of Teachers (NUT), says they "now have a perfect storm of crisis upon crisis in the school system". An NUT survey found that 53 per cent of teachers are thinking of quitting in the next two years as a result of the workload (61 per cent) and need for 'a better work/life balance' (57 per cent). In fact, 49,120 teachers exited the teaching profession - an increase of 3,480 - between November 2013 and November 2014. There were 21,000 fewer applications this year. There is also a shortfall in the number of persons applying for teacher training. A crisis indeed. In addition, wages in London and other parts of England 'have struggled to keep up with house prices'.

The 'growing school population' has also been identified by TeachVac, 'an independent vacancy-matching and monitoring service,' as one of many reasons there is a lack of teachers.

So what exactly are our teachers who as at April 1, 2015, earn a minimum $1,078,629 and a maximum of $1,340,851, plus a Special Allowance of $328,641 and book allowance of $171,000 running to? Yes, our teachers only make a fifth of what they earn in England, but it is important to note that medicine, education and engineering graduates earn the most income, according to the most recent graduate tracer study. What will we do when they start recruiting our business and social sciences teachers where they have an 85 per cent shortfall in the number of teachers needed who are being trained in this area? Pay business studies teachers more?

Let us be measured in our approach to addressing this critical issue despite the urgency. Our solution needs to be practical and sustainable. Let's improve our education system and not merely our teachers' salary.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.