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US woos Jamaican teachers - Recruitment drive triggers fears of new exodus
published: Monday | March 24, 2008

Petrina Francis, Staff Reporter

The island's already fragile education system could suffer further haemorrhaging as another overseas recruitment agency attempts to woo specialist teachers to United States (US) schools.

According to an advertisement in The Sunday Gleaner yesterday, the US-based recruitment agency, Teachers Council, said it was seeking 300 teachers with majors in special education, early childhood education, elementary mathematics, biology, physical education, art, music and Spanish.

Teachers Council said it would be responsible for all immigrant services, including H-1B visas for six years and adjustments to green cards.

'Join the Excitement!' the advertisement read, indicating that inter-views would take place on April 1 and 2 between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. at the University of the West Indies, and that no registration fee was required.

JTA worried

The Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) is worried about the effect the recruitment drive could have on the education sector, which is already short of qualified teachers.

"It is really sad to see what is taking place (as) it has always been a concern for the JTA that the First World is recruiting our teachers," Ena Barclay, president of the teacher union, told The Gleaner yesterday.

She said the JTA was concerned that the recruiting agency was seeking to employ the most-qualified teachers in understaffed specialist areas such as special education and early childhood education.

"Special education is a critical area. It is an area where persons are trained to deal with the learning difficulties that are in the school and we do not even have enough special education facilities or special education teachers," lamented the JTA boss.

Big drawing cards

However, Barclay conceded that more attractive compensation packages and better-resourced institutions were the big drawing cards which lured teachers away from Jamaica.

"We also have to understand that the teachers are in need. The fact that our salaries are so poor, and when you think that teachers can earn between US$3,000 to US$3,500 per month," Barclay reasoned.

She further reasoned: "If you can get US$3,500 per month, you are talking about (well in excess of) J$210,000 and here we are not even working $70,000. So people are not going to refuse offers like these."

Frustrated by violence

The JTA president noted that teachers were also willing to migrate because they were frustrated with the high incidence of violence in schools.

Minister of Education Andrew Holness issued a special plea for teachers to remain on the island and contribute to national development.

"The Ministry of Education is always concerned when we lose specialist teachers, particularly in the areas of early childhood and special education where we simply do not have enough," Holness said yesterday in reaction to the latest recruitment drive.

"But we can't quarrel because this is a free country and as long as they have paid their bonds, we can't stop them. But we would hope that they would do the patriotic thing and stay," the education minister said.

He, however, warned those teachers who might choose to migrate to be clear about the obligations of the contracts they enter into with the recruiters.

Several Jamaican and other foreign teachers who were recently recruited to work in the United Kingdom (UK) almost lost their jobs last summer when their four-year work permits expired.

It later became clear that the teachers were expected to obtain Qualified Teacher's Status (QTS) by the end of July, for which many were unable to meet the deadline.

At the time of the controversy, the teachers complained of being misinformed by UK authorities about the process involved in acquiring QTS qualification. Furthermore, they said they did not have the time to get qualified based on the rigorous work schedule, or the financial resources to fund the cost of the programme.

The education sector suffered a major setback when hundreds of Jamaican teachers began migrating to the US and other developed countries in 2000.

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