Editorial | What if we can’t keep our teachers?
As Jamaica climbs down from the euphoria of the 2016 Olympic Games, the Holness administration must deal with a host of pressing issues, including finding replacement teachers for the new school year to fill places vacated by those emigrating.
More than 100 qualified mathematics teachers exited the classroom last year, with the result that now only about 200 mathematics teachers in the secondary-school system are qualified to teach the subject to grade 11.
Concern over the international recruitment of teachers was expressed by the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) earlier this year when it noted that scouts from the United Kingdom and the United States sometimes complete the process within a day and facilitate almost immediate departure for the successful teachers. In one instance, the JTA noted that the entire science department of an institution was decimated. With these sudden departures, schools are thrown into near chaos.
Post-mortems by education experts into the recently released Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate results confirm the effects of teacher migration with declining scores in the critical areas of mathematics and science subjects. Statistics show a 14.3 percentage-point dive in mathematics passes following three consecutive years of improvement.
Exactly how does the Government propose to tackle this haemorrhaging of talented teachers? Historically, education challenges have been met with poorly thought-out interventions. Short-term fixes such as salary rises and additional benefits are usually not enough to deal with the situation. Yet, after these are applied, the great minds at the Ministry of Education usually sit back and expect that the problem will be solved. Long-term comprehensive solutions are rarely conceived and implemented.
Opposition Spokesman on Education Ronald Thwaites has suggested that an introduction of specialised mathematics courses be taught via television. In this scenario, trained teachers would go through the syllabus on television, giving students access to quality teaching.
Current Education Minister Ruel Reid says there is a move to develop more qualified mathematics and science teachers by awarding scholarships to 230 students. In addition, 50 mathematics coaches have been identified to provide support to underperforming schools.
A BETTER LIFE
The JTA, while acknowledging that it may be difficult for the Government to match overseas purchasing power of between $4 million and $8 million a year, suggested that access to government land and houses, reduced mortgages, and duty concessions may help staunch the exodus of teachers from the classroom.
People have always moved from place to place in search of opportunities, as migration is expected to yield a better life. It is no different in this global age, where new and attractive options are providing powerful incentives for people to move. Given that teaching jobs are being regularly advertised by schools in Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it is likely that more teachers will trod the migration path in search of new opportunities.
For Jamaica, the problem can only be overcome by introducing prudent, creative management within the education sector. Mr Thwaites' suggestion should be given due consideration, as should any other, especially that advocating the use of technology as a defining tool in overcoming the teacher emigration problem.
Another policy response to this dilemma is possibly offering unpaid leave to teachers to work overseas in order to retain their services after their stints abroad.
In this Internet Age where children are wired to their mobile phones and tablets, there should be greater attempts to use these instruments to deliver tutorials and instruction as a means of satisfying educational aspirations.
There is also a huge reservoir of talent among retired persons in Jamaica, who should be drafted by the Ministry of Education and could provide instructions via Skype.
The situation of teacher emigration is a complex one and the consequences of not acting speedily may prove disastrous to the education system.