Ronald Thwaites | Priority: education
Good teachers in Jamaican schools are poorly paid, and the outcomes of our children suffer because the system does not attract the best quality and often cannot retain the really talented persons who do try teaching.
Remember that in default of family, media, politics, and Church, the Jamaican school has become the main institution capable of inculcating positive moral and civic values, without which everything will continue to crash.
Most teachers are earning under two million devaluing dollars a year, and like all of us, what they earn is subject to the 'chi-chi' of inflation. Teachers desire and are expected to live at a middle-class standard, but the money can't stretch.
Look at the paucity of male teachers. Jamaican children, bereft for the most part of a father figure at home, desperately need a strong role model at school to compensate. Sadly, such a person is absent. Fewer than 15 per cent of our teachers are men. They, and many women, too, will tell you that despite best intentions, they cannot afford to stay in the classroom.
Our teachers' colleges have become largely girls' schools. The men who persevere soon graduate into administrative roles, which take them away from the kind of direct and sustained contact with students that can produce the best socialisation.
In countries with the kind of high GDP growth that we say we want, teaching is a priority profession, well paid and very highly respected - and held to high standards of performance and accountability, too. Check Finland, South Korea, and Singapore, for example.
Must we not do the same as they have done if we want similar results?
That is the question that we cannot postpone as we enter the Budget preparation cycle for next year. If we want to resurrect the more than half-dead 'five-in-four' aspiration and meet our 2030 goals, the teaching profession will have to be reincentivised by at least a double-digit increment in the current wage negotiations.
I contend that we can afford this, too, if we establish quality education and training as the supreme national priority: the only foundation on which a low-crime, healthy, knowledge-based society and economy can be built.
Just hearken to BOJ Governor Brian Wynter, who recently warned that we could well find ourselves with more investment opportunities than suitably trained workers.
In fact, that is our situation right now. The BPO managers are having to interview several applicants before engaging one suitable employee. The shortage of really highly skilled workmen is causing some capitalists to take liberty with us and import their own workers.
More money is a necessary but not sufficient remedy to current educational deficiencies. There are many other aspects of the teaching profession that will have to be reorganised. Where on the legislative calendar are the Jamaica Teaching Council Bill and the revision of the Education Regulations of 1980?
The dated process of collective bargaining for a wage settlement between Government and the teachers' union will resume this week - a year late. It is clear that the Ministry of the Public Service is trying to appease so as to avert embarrassing industrial action, while in reality, it is unlikely that any new money will be available until the next financial year.
So the continuing migration of our better teachers will continue apace in January, usually without notice to principals, so long as excellence is rated in the same pay grade as mediocrity and poor performance.
But the State has no equity to undertake the hard right-sizing and right-skilling of the teaching profession unless it offers substantially more than three per cent to the practitioners.
Since the discussion on all this has not even started, in all likelihood, we are going to end up with a settlement that neither satisfies the legitimate aspirations of the teachers nor assures the country of getting the value of a really reformed and quality educational system. Going on as we are will give the same anaemic results.
No administration has had the courage to confront these systemic problems. Whenever the required effort has been proposed, there has been political blowback enough to scuttle the prospect.
It is time to break that cycle. The presumption that all categories of public servants must get the same percentage wage increase may appear tidy but defies efficiency - especially for good teachers.
Apply zero budgeting to expenditure on education and use the savings to fund much better pay for highly productive teachers.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesperson on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.