Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Editorial | Time to break JTA’s resistance to accountability

Published:Thursday | November 3, 2016 | 11:00 AM

Preemptory action is never the preferred course when parties, with different perspective on issues, are attempting to arrive at a commission position.

Sometimes, however, it is impossible to "bring minds together to create a work of art and ...arrive at a beautiful spot", as it is the aim of Winsome Gordon, the executive director of the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC), the agency established eight years ago to register teachers and to regulate the teaching profession.

Since then, the JTC, and more broadly, the Jamaican government has failed to foster consensus with teachers and their union, the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), on the basis of their registration and performance standards, against which they are to be periodically assessed.

The attitude of teachers and the JTA has ranged from passive resistance to open hostility, on the claim of protecting the rights of teachers to natural justice and professional fairness, against potentially arbitrary actions by regulatory officials. Most people, however, see the building of ramparts against accountability for inappropriate behaviour and/or professional incompetence.

 

AGREED STANDARDS

 

Indeed, as it now stands, despite the arguments to the contrary by the entrenched establishment, once hired, it is exceedingly difficult to pry a misbehaving or non-performing teachers out of their jobs, assuming that there is measure with which to make such judgement. The idea, therefore, to establish agreed standards, which, on the face of, would be in the interest of all stakeholders: students, parents, taxpayers and, critically, those teachers who want to perform at their optimum and don't mind being measured against set targets.

The problem is that teaching, with a critical mass of below-par performers, has long become of cosy profession, whose indolence is insulated by the political power of its union. It shows, in the part, in the educational outcomes of Jamaican students at the primary and secondary levels. Indeed, up to a third of students leave the primary system not ready for secondary education.And even after a huge chunk of the secondary cohort is screened out of school-leaving exams, the majority of those who take the tests still struggle to gain decent grades in math and English at the CXC secondary school exams. Indeed, no more than 20 per cent of those who take the exams annually pass five subjects in a single sitting.

Yet, the teachers who deliver these results year after year remain in their positions, not only confident that at the end of each negotiating cycle they will be receiving the same pay increase and increments as the top producers, but aware that they will not be challenged on their suitability for the profession. Or, ultimately, whether they are good for Jamaica's children.

The non-performers like it that way. The teachers' union acquiesces because it's easier and, importantly, it entrenches its power.

The JTC's Dr Gordon, at a symposium on the issue, repeated that point that the appraisal process is not about being punitive and appealed to the teaching profession for trust. "...We are trying to grapple with the matter of dialogue," she added.

At some point, though, leadership will have to assert itself. That point, this newspaper believes, is fast approaching when the government will have to take a stand.