Tue | Sep 22, 2020

Editorial | Publish green paper on political code for teachers

Published:Thursday | February 7, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Ruel Reid’s proposal for the establishment of a code of conduct for teachers who enter the political fray deserves a hearing, but requires better particulars before it can be deemed worthy of full support.

Indeed, the onus is on him to prove that his mission is not self-serving, aimed at providing insulation for the Government which he serves and, by extension, for himself.

Jamaican teachers, of course, have had a long and often distinguished involvement in the island’s political process, both as parliamentary and local government representatives, and the provision of institutional support for political parties and related organisations.

Among the most recent example is Elaine Foster Allen, the former principal of Shortwood Teachers’ College and former permanent secretary in the education ministry, who now heads the task force formulating education policy for the opposition People’s National Party (PNP).

And only a fortnight ago, Walton Small, the principal of the Wolmer’s Boys’ School, was confirmed as the PNP’s likely candidate for the South St James constituency in the next general election, replacing the retiring Derrick Kellier.

While teacher/politicians have historically come from both sides of the aisle, recent anecdotal evidence suggests that the trek from the classroom to the political hustings is more on the side of the PNP than the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Some cynics will conclude, probably unfairly, that this perception is behind the suggestion by Mr Reid, education minister, coming, as it does, soon after the announcement of Dr Small’s planned entry into representational politics.

“There has been some latitude for teachers to be politically active when they are still employed (as teachers), but there is no code of conduct,” Mr Reid said. “…For good governance, that is a conversation we need to have.”

We agree. That conversation must include Mr Reid’s own status and whether he is right that there is absolute difference between himself and other teachers who may enter the political fray.

Mr Reid, since he became the education minister in 2016, has been on leave of absence from his job as principal of Jamaica College, a boys’ high school.

Before that, he was an Opposition member of the Senate – in which he still sits – where he was often critical of the policies of the government of the day. If he has a change of political fortunes, Mr Reid, all things being equal, can return to JC up to 2021, when his leave ends.

He is unlike other teacher/politicians, who might openly criticise the Government, Mr Reid argues, “because I’m not at JC and fully with the Government”. Whatever may be the pros or cons in any analysis of Mr Reid’s argument, we appreciate the concerns implied in his call for the code of conduct.

Partisan positions

Politics in Jamaica, as it is elsewhere, often involves the assumption by its participants of deeply partisan positions. That is potentially problematic for an educational institution, if it is perceived to have been daubed by his or her politics. It calls for restraint on the part of the teacher/politician to prevent this.

However, while we appreciate the reasons for limits placed on open political involvement by members of the permanent civil service, there has to be care that those codes and regulations are not used to stifle the participation, or impinge on the constitutional rights, of other workers in the public sector.

It is good, therefore, that Mr Reid says that he intends to develop his code of conduct with the political Opposition. We would suggest that he first publish a Green Paper on the matter, open to broad public discussion, including by the people it will most immediately affect – teachers.