Barrington Flemming, Gleaner Writer
THE JAMAICA Teachers' Association (JTA) has taken issue with the proposed Jamaica Teaching Council Bill (JTC), which is designed to govern the teaching profession and institute a regime for the licensing and registration of all government-paid educators.
It also gives legal powers to the council to immediately suspend and cancel the registration of a teacher who is charged for what is deemed a disqualifiable offence, which includes: sexual offences, murder, pornography, robbery, and fraud.
This comes just three months after Education Minister Ronald Thwaites indicated that the ministry and the JTA had reached a "substantial agreement" on the terms of the bill, which he is hoping to have tabled in the House of Representatives during the 2012-13 parliamentary year.
Patrick Smith, senior secretary in charge of member services of the JTA, raised several concerns with The Gleaner during an interview on Tuesday.
Among the concerns are the composition of the JTC and the ceding of the rights of school boards to carry out disciplinary action against teachers.
"Our main points of concern at it relates to the JTC is its composition (who become members), as well as the matter of what constitutes a quorum and whether the individual constituent groups have the right of veto.
"The second is that while we would accept that the JTC should have some disciplinary action against teachers, we do believe that at the local level the board should continue to exercise such powers," Smith said.
He explained that while the JTA does not have a problem with the boards initiating disciplinary action and the JTC taking over at a later stage, the board, which is the employer of the teacher, should not be deprived of the right to pursue a disciplinary matter against the teacher, which is what is being proposed.
The JTA also said funding was among its concerns, noting that the Government may not propose to fund the council from its own coffers, based on the serious financial constraints under which it is operating at this time.
"It seems to me like for matter such as registration, licensing, accreditation and assessment of teachers qualification to teach, that it will be teachers who will be asked to fund all of these. Currently, workshops and seminars hosted by the ministry are free, but you are going to have a situation where a Jamaica Teaching Council that will insist that a teacher does a three- credit course and the teacher will have to pay from his or her pocket."
Smith said another point of concern is what he said is the ease with which a teacher's registration or licence may be suspended under the proposed bill.
"Now if a teacher's registration or licence is suspended, the teacher cannot teach. The teacher loses an income, and bearing in mind in Jamaica how long it takes for our judicial system to operate, it may mean that this individual will be out of a job for an inordinately long time. What if a spurious charge is made and the teacher is cleared, will the person be compensated for the loss income?"
However, Thwaites said he would be surprised that there are other concerns outstanding after he and the leadership of the JTA and other officers from the ministry met over a period of 10 months to help to craft the bill and they had reached consensus.
"I am encouraging the association, if it still has areas of concern to submit these for consideration, albeit at this late stage, as it has been interminably long now for this bill to be submitted. We will still accept them and move quickly to ensure that the bill reaches Parliament as soon as possible," Thwaites told The Gleaner.