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No end in sight of a JTA ceasefire

Published:Sunday | September 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Custos of Kingston Steadman Fuller (left) being greeted by then president-elect of the Jamaica Teachers' Assocation, Doran Dixon, while then president Dr Mark Nicely looks on during Read Across Jamaica Day earlier this year. - File

Gary Spaulding, Guest  Columnist

The nation is going into the second week of another academic year, but there is no end in sight of a ceasefire from the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), which looks like Beirut of old and the ISIS group of more recent vintage.

Empirical evidence demonstrates that in recent years, if the JTA is not warring with the incumbent minister of education on the political landscape, the leadership, or at least sections of it, has a way of unleashing their venom on each other in the legal arena.

Simultaneously, the JTA's Clarion newsletter that highlights "opinions and achievements in education" resembles a rallying cry to combat with headlines such as 'Rights benefits struggle' and 'JTA rejects JTC Bill, wants talk on leave, voluntary relocation and waiting on back pay'.

There are unquestionably hundreds of great teachers who continue to serve with distinction, but their efforts are being undermined, in large measures, by a volatile group of leaders who view every issue as a major conflict.

My very good friend, Danny Roberts, an admirable trade unionist, appears to be harbouring the view that any opposition to the combative propensities of the JTA leadership constitutes a grand conspiracy to trample on the concept of consultations.

It must be remembered that constant cussing should not be confused with dialogues and discussions at this confusing juncture.

In that vein, much responsibility rests on outgoing JTA President Dr Mark Nicely, one of the JTA's obviously cerebral figures, not to yield to the temptations prevailing in the volatile environment in which he operates.

Nicely is one of those seemingly stable figures who needs to keep in mind his remarkable tribute to former governor general of Jamaica, the late Howard Cooke, a man who like many other educators of a past era, was "respectfully" called Teacher due to their inspirational examples.

Like me, there are many in the public domain who keep wondering why the position of president, immediate past president and president-elect generate so much controversy. What are the perks that accompany such positions?

In its 'Holy Wars', the JTA, whose members benefit from the kinds of protracted leave that other public-sector workers can only hope for, parades itself as martyrs of a noble and altruistic cause and "arms" and has no compunction but to take on any political leader who dares to challenge it.

And one dares not venture on the subject of performance-based pay lest you are verbally assailed with venom from the raging combat zone of the JTA, that make the fighting verbal exchanges between Government and parliamentary Opposition look like child's play.

Blaming the home

It is noteworthy that one of the Association's constant battle cries that is sounded when their charges from the classrooms underperform and behaves badly is that he/she is the product of violent homes - not the battleground of the JTA.

But the leadership of the Association harbours absolutely no hesitation to soak up the accolades that they sometimes shower on themselves for their efforts.

Notwithstanding the repeated confrontational rhetoric of the JTA leadership over the years, closer examination reveals that the Association is the discordantly cacophonous element in efforts to change the education culture in Jamaica as the political forces seem, in general, to be in one accord on this issue.

It was former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson in 2002 who used a motion from then Opposition Leader Edward Seaga in Parliament to facilitate the drawdown of $5 billion over a five-year period for the advancement of education, a signal that rival political forces had recognised and acknowledged the need for accord on the most imporatnt of subjects.

If they are criticised when they do badly, then our politicians should be praised when they accomplish a good deeds.

The agreement on education "for the good" of the nation's children, which was forged in 2003, was aptly described by Seaga, the mover of the original motion as "historic".

Patterson was in one accord in his contribution to the debate as he conceded that Government needed to spend more of the national budget on education.

At the end of the debate, both Government and Opposition agreed to provide free education up to the secondary/high school level and build new schools, improve teacher training and create a teacher/pupil ratio of 1:25.

All this was aimed at getting our children to perform on par with their counterparts across the globe.

The parliamentary gesture at the time elicited a profound reaction from a commentator who asserted that: "Nothing is wrong with our children, rather it is with the system."

Admittedly, the system still has some way to go, and teachers must be roundly commended for improving the performance students at the level of the Grade Six Achievement (GSAT) as well those performing in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) programme and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE).

Sadly, the current Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites, a hard-working man, who clearly has the interest of education at heart as did his predecessors, appears to be kicking against the prick as far as the JTA is concerned.

Far be it from me to suggest that our educators are pricks. It must be noted that the prick or goad was a necessary device. It was really a wooden goad with a pointed spike (prick) at one end.

The person working the ox would position the goad (prick) in such a way to exert influence and control over the ox.

Although both the JTA and Minister said both parties are good as the olive branch has been accepted, the Association continues to talk about struggles which imply impending battles.

If Ronald Thwaites is to be as effective as he obviously can be, he cannot allow intimidation to be a distracting influence.

It is not unusual for the JTA to take politicians to the classroom and chastise them like errant students.

Golding's experience

Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding suffered such a fate after he was "detained" by the teachers when he classified greedy members of the privileged grouping as "extortionist" by their acts of extracting extra lessons from students.

Apart from constantly opposing appointments by the then Jamaica Labour Party administration, the JTA, in 2011, resisted former Education Minister Andrew Holness' threat to compel school administrators to complete critical incident report forms created to record major infractions in schools.

The JTA warned Holness that it would be "unwise" for him to go that route after Holness suggested that there has been a "resistance and a reluctance" among principals and teachers to complete the forms, which are designed to help the ministry manage safety and security issues in schools.

With the battle-prone JTA refusing to declare a much-needed ceasefire, Thwaites needs to keep in mind that in the final analysis, it is within his remit to ensure that the education fraternity does not remain one major battle ground.

Gary Spaulding is a political affairs journalist. Email feedback t and