Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Darien Henry: Differential pay for teachers – not such a brilliant idea

Published:Tuesday | March 15, 2016 | 3:00 AMDarien Henry

Quite recently, there has been a rash of public commentary about the merits of paying teachers of math and science at variable rates that are ostensibly higher than what their similarly abled counterparts take home, albeit the differentials in content and competence.

The chatter about differentiated pay was in large measure ignited by the stark realities that some of the best and brightest are turning their backs on the Jamaican classroom and opting instead for lucrative teaching opportunities which can see them earning between a low of £22,244 to a high of £28,000 depending on placement and scope of responsibility.

I am not surprised that the reaction is a fiercely knee-jerk one, since the cadre of our mathematics and science pedagogues are leaving in droves. Based on the latest numbers out of the Ministry of Education, 490-plus teachers of the mathematics and science disciplines have abandoned the secondary level of the education system between academic years 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. This trend is not likely to dissipate.

 

STEM LEANING

Added to that, emerging trends in pedagogy in most of the developed and developing societies are leaning heavily in favour of the science, technology, engineering and math curriculum given the realities that have festooned global economies.

The Jamaican educational authorities are fully aware of this and are indeed worried because small to medium-scale economies are gunning for the best of teachers wherever they can find them, pay them handsomely, and in return, prepare their children to take advantage of emerging global and economic trends. For instance, the former minister of education told the country recently that Jamaica is losing maths and science teachers to the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Botswana, Ghana and the Far East.

Teachers in Jamaica, generally, are insufficiently compensated for the work they do given that, at the higher end of the pay scale, that individual is paid at roughly $1.5 million compared to the $4.5-$5 million he or she would earn in Jamaican-dollar terms when they migrate. Hence, I have not been convinced that enough thought went into the proposal to pay maths and science teachers more to remain in the classroom. Is the Government willing to match the maths teachers' salary to what is paid internationally? I hardly think so.

A few years ago, the basic salaries of mainly public-school teachers were fine-tuned to 80 per cent of market rates. The truth is that it may be a tall order to recalibrate the salaries of 25,000 teachers to a much higher scale, though this is the desired avenue, especially since the imminent pension arrangement will chisel away pay packets.

The practice of paying subject teachers at differential rates is not practised in developed and developing economies - and obviously for good reason. In the United States, for instance, some states and districts are breaking with traditional uniform salary schedules and experi-menting with teacher compensation models that include differential pay components. So instead of rewarding teachers for educational attainment and experience, which is the current model for compensation, differential pay plans tend to reward teachers for three types of accomplishments: knowledge and skill-based pay, student achievement, and the assumption of additional responsibilities. In some instances, teachers are also compensated for working in hard-to-staff schools or subjects.

It appears to me as well that the Government is in a mad rush to get even 'private-sector professionals' to teach math and science in public schools. Said Ronald Thwaites, then minister of education, on February 2 in Parliament: " ... Interested persons will be immersed in a short course designed to prepare then for the classroom where necessary. These individuals will be engaged to serve at grades 10-13." But I dare say that these professionals could be bright as a morning star, if they can't master the art of pedagogy, to deliver content and inspire learning in a meaningful way, they will be an abject failure.

 

COMPENSATION

Additionally, what is the proposed compensation package for these professionals? As at April 1, 2015, a graduate-trained teacher with a degree at the first point of the scale earns 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. Does the minister plan to entice professionals with this pay package?

Amid all of this, Jamaican teachers will continue to be sought after by these well-off countries because they are fully aware that our pedagogues are the finest in any competing educational system. Geoff Brown, the director of Hourglass Education, who has visited upon Jamaica's shores on a few occasions on 'a mass recruitment drive', has said cryptically: "You get a Jamaican, he or she is here [in the UK] for life."

My only hope is that practicality and good sense will prevail in this matter.

- Darien Henry is senior teacher at Jamaica College and a broadcast communication specialist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and darienhenry@gmail.com.