Barrington Flemming, Gleaner Writer
Ready to battle with Government on important issues
Clayton Hall, the newly installed president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), says he is ready to do battle with Government over its stated intention to reform the pension plan for teachers - a move the 24,000-strong association does not support.
Addressing delegates and guests on Monday night at the Ritz Carlton Resort and Spa, in Montego Bay, St James, where the association is staging its three-day 48th annual general conference, Hall said he was prepared to go to the Caribbean Court of Justice or even the United Kingdom-based Privy Council, to secure the welfare of the teachers.
"Teachers' pension should remain under the Pension Act," declared Hall, noting that the JTA was convinced the proposal to reform the public-sector pension plan was illegal.
"Call it youthful exuberance, but I am convinced of the jurisprudential authenticity of the original opinion emanating from the Office of the Attorney General, which stated that the changes proposed are illegal," said Hall. "I am prepared to visit with the legal luminaries at the Caribbean Court of Justice or their colleagues in the Privy Council to test the veracity of such an opinion."
In his wide ranging address, which was the highlight of his installation as president, Hall also shot down a proposal by Education Minister Reverend Ronald Thwaites to extend the school year, noting that teachers need the time to rest, the school administrations need time to refurbish school plants, and students needs a break so as not to lose interest in their academic pursuits.
No more days
"Mr Minister, I have heard assertions concerning an extension of the school year. This is impossible as the current school year extends from September 1 to August 31 and there are no more days to add," said Hall. "Without the summer down time, our ill-equipped, poorly staffed and under-maintained school plants would simply fall apart. Simply ask any principal who manages an over-utilised school plant, without the services of a plant manager, the necessity of the summer holidays."
Turning to the recent firestorm over the reduction in the percentage of passes at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations, Hall rejected the labelling of teachers as incompetent, arguing that, by the same token, the improvements realised in the education sector must be attributed to the very same teachers.
"The recent significant reduction in passes at the CSEC level runs counter to normal statistical movements," said Hall. "The knee-jerk reaction is to point to teachers and their level of qualification or competence. I have significant questions relating to the statistics outlined on teacher competence, and I too have read Darrell Huff's book entitled How to lie with statistics. The reality that remains unquestionable is that the improvements that we have experienced over the past few years were directly attributed to these same teachers."