Mon | Dec 11, 2017

George Davis | JTA's tunnel vision

Published:Wednesday | September 6, 2017 | 12:00 AM

The Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) has achieved nothing since 2008. If you believe I am making it up, go check the organisation's website at jta.org.jm. Under the link, History of the JTA, the entity lists the major things it has achieved since inception in 1964. The list shows that the JTA achieved significant things in the 1980s, which was arguably the golden period for the entity in terms of advancing the welfare of members. But there is no entry after the year 2008, meaning that we can conclude that nothing significant has happened since then.

The website is up to date. The August 2017 issue of the Clarion is a nice publication included on the website, while the most recent press release, decrying the suggestion by Minister Ruel Reid that some schools were engaged in corruption and extortion, dated August 4, 2017, is also published.

So on an up-to-date website, where the organisation's list of achievements since 1964 are adumbrated, it's only fair to assume that nothing of note has happened since 2008, the year of the last entry on the list.

The JTA has comforted itself with being an agitator for wage increase and an expansion in benefits for its members, while all around it the education system is rickety, capable of falling down at any minute.

No member of the public expects to hear anything about the JTA except at wage negotiation time when the news reports that teachers are demanding an increase and have rejected the Government's offer. The public will then hear that teachers are restless and will not rule out any action as they push to get what they know they deserve.

 

Poor salary

 

The public will hear that teachers are struggling to cope at current wages, with men and women in the classrooms tripping over themselves to tell stories about barely being able to make ends meet and how this wage increase will be the difference between them starving and being able to eat and feed their families each day.

So in the eyes of the public, Dr Anton Wesley Powell's JTA, the one which has in its mandate a commitment to make representation to matters related to education, is only ever active and vocal when a wage increase is due. The great man would be displeased.

When did the JTA ever seek to exert leadership on any issue affecting the nation? When did the JTA rally ever catch the nation's attention except at those times when they threaten to strike because wage negotiations have broken down or some education minister tells Parliament that they are about to eliminate a benefit enjoyed by those in charge of learning in the classrooms? When was the JTA ever a guest of substance at any round table on education?

For an entity which boasts about representing 12,000 men and women in the classrooms, why has the JTA been satisfied with only using its awesome voice and power for industrial relations? And if not the JTA and if the JTA is to be only a trade union, which other teacher lobby must the country count on to conceptualise, proffer, debate and influence the implementation of policy to dress the bleeding wounds in education?

Where's the contribution from the JTA on the funding of education at all levels? Where's the document on the long-term policy regarding the teaching of mathematics, entrepreneurship, IT and the sciences in primary and high schools? Where's the policy proposal on how to prevent youngsters from moving from primary to secondary school without the ability to read?

When was the last time the JTA called a press conference to talk about anything other than wages? Just where is the intellectual leadership in Dr Anton Wesley Powell's JTA?

I spent 11 years in the newsroom of Nationwide Radio. I can't recall a single time during one of our production meetings about the preparation of a segment on the development of education that the opinion of the JTA was central to the narrative.

It wasn't due to any bias against the JTA. It was, though, because the JTA was seen as a scream-for-pay organisation with nothing of value to add beyond telling the story of how difficult life was for its members in the classroom.

Such a shame.

Selah.

- George Sylvester Davis is a journalist and executive producer and host of SportsMax Zone. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and george.s.davis@hotmail.com.