College crisis: Students shun teacher-training institutions; administrators say Thwaites drove them away
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
THE LEADERSHIP of teachers' colleges across the island is reporting that the number of students enrolling at these institutions "is at the worst for decades now".
"We are seeing a low turnout in the number of students coming in September, and that is a serious challenge for us … . Numbers have serious implications for the serious running of the institutions simply because we depend on tuition to ensure that we run smoothly," Garth Anderson, principal of Church Teachers' College and deputy dean of the Teachers Colleges of Jamaica, told The Gleaner yesterday.
Anderson was among scores of teacher trainers and administrators who participated in a two-day professional-development workshop which ended yesterday at the Jamaica Conference Centre in Kingston.
Anderson said that while the first-year intake to colleges averaged 180 students per institution, that figure is down more than 50 per cent this year. He argued that the declining numbers were due to the state of the economy as well as utterances from public officials, which have turned people away from teaching.
SCARED OFF BY UTTERANCES
Dr Rose Davies, chair of the Joint Board of Teacher Education, an institution that will be issuing degrees to teachers out of a partnership with the colleges and the University of the West Indies, said some public utterances might be contributing to the fall-off in registration.
"We have to look back at some of the things that have been said … about having excess teachers in the system and about jobs not being available," Davies said.
Her comment appeared to be a thinly veiled jab at Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, who made such pronouncements in the past.
Thwaites said yesterday that there are 2,000 trained teachers who are currently unemployed and another 2,000 in the system who are underdeployed.
"The teachers' colleges have to rethink their mission," Thwaites told The Gleaner, while adding that "the need for a consistent supply of generally trained teachers is not what it used to be and is not likely to be for several years".
The minister said, however, that there was a market for specialised teachers.
"If we had 400 trained mathematics teachers now, we could employ them," Thwaites said, while adding that there "are far too many teachers already in the system, being paid, who do not have the requite skills to produce the outcomes required by everyone".
Jamaica, under its arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has agreed to a freeze on the hiring of teachers in schools that are overstaffed to allow the number of existing teachers to decline by attrition.
Davies said having heard such utterances and "projections in terms of when you finish college, you won't have a job", persons have looked instead to other institutions for training.
"The economy is one thing, but if you keep hearing that you have an oversupply and that there is not going to be a job for you, then you are not going to be thrilled to go into that profession," Davies said.
She has suggested that while teacher education numbers are falling, the colleges might have to consider training persons in other areas.
"In order to survive, I think our colleges have to look at what else they can capitalise on … . Our numbers, in terms of what we do generally, those are falling, but we may have to look at some other areas that are opening up in terms of people being prepared to work in those areas," Davies said.
Dr Asburn Pinnock, principal of Sam Sharpe Teachers' College, said the downturn in the economy has affected employment across several disciplines, including law and medicine, and argues that the no-jobs-in-teaching utterances have exacerbated the problem for colleges.
"Numbers started to go down four years ago with the economic downturn and the devaluation of the dollar," Pinnock told The Gleaner. "What happened in our case is that we have been singled out unfairly and, therefore, persons now are deliberately moving away. If they allowed the market forces to reign, then they would have had a lowering of intake across the board."
Major Johnathan Lamey, vice-president of academics at the College of Agriculture, Science, and Education, said he was prepared to debate Thwaites on the issue of investment in teacher training, saying his institution is of critical importance to the growth agenda but is being stifled due to low enrolment.
"We stand to train teachers to boost Jamaica's food security. It's either food security or you are dead. It's a matter of life or death.
"Public officials should be careful of the utterances they make so that they don't drive our people away from their education," Lamey said.
It costs an average $200,000 per year to access teacher training, and this represents the bulk of income to run these institutions. Each college receives a subvention from the national Budget yearly, but Pinnock said that it is not enough to pay teachers.