EDITORIAL - Getting value for money in education
Published: Sunday | January 25, 2009
You see, Mr Dixon was installed last August as president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), an organisation of over 20,000 members, whose primary role is that of a trade union. The JTA has proved itself quite adept at its job.
For example, months ago, even as he lamented Jamaica's fiscal problem, Finance Minister Audley Shaw announced that the Government would accept a consultant's report for pay adjustments to teachers to take their salaries to within 80 per cent of the rate for similar jobs in the private sector. The bill for this move, for which Mr Shaw claimed to have no choice, would be $15 billion, which, we surmise, is to be over the two years of a contract that is to end in 2010.
Mr Shaw has not shared the details of the reclassification report with the public, so not much is known about the basis on which the proposed adjustments have been fashioned. Neither has Mr Shaw said what is being asked of teachers in exchange for this hike in their pay.
Curiously, too, neither Mr Dixon specifically, nor his union, has said much on the matter. Most likely, it is because he has not been asked, which, really, is the failure of the press - in a way.
Yet, the probable shortcomings of the media notwithstanding, we feel there is a responsibility on the part of teachers and their unions to offer themselves to account to taxpayers, their ultimate employers, for the salaries they receive. We feel that, as is increasingly the case with other professions, the compensation of teachers should be linked to performance.
This fiscal year, without any adjustments for higher teaching salaries, the Government's education budget was $58 billion, or over $1.1 billion a week, or more than $160 million a day. It would be the most na´ve and credulous who believe that the country is getting value for this kind of spending. A shameful fact is that part of the return on this outlay is that a third of Jamaican students on entering grade one are not ready for high school and only 20 per cent of the students who 'graduate' from secondary school can immediately matriculate to tertiary institutions or have the requisite qualifications for decent jobs.
There are many more horror stories at the primary and secondary levels of the system.
Of course, the entirety of the blame is not with teachers. But despite the whimpering of the teaching lobby and education apologists, teachers cannot be absolved of their responsibility.
We hear the arguments and analyses of the skewed streaming of students and the poor socio-cultural conditions in which some schools are forced to operate. We, however, remain unconvinced that these preclude our ability to create a system to measure performance and to compensate teachers, on the basis of weighted outcomes.
Mr Dixon, we are sure, believes that such capacity exists in his organisation, even if it may not be ready to embrace the concept - which, would be a shame, given his pledge at his inauguration to help accelerate the process of education transformation.
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