Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer
OCHO RIOS, St Ann:IT APPEARS that the new academic year will begin smoothly come September 2.
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites on Wednesday appeased the nation's teachers, to a large extent, by ensuring that outstanding issues, including an amount of $322 million owed as reimbursement for tuition expenses, will be dealt with in short order.
Addressing the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) conference at Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort in Ocho Rios, the education minister assured the teachers that the $322 million, which is reimbursement for teachers who have spent their money to upgrade their qualifications, will be paid monthly starting October.
"While some has been paid in small tranches over recent months, beginning in October and proceeding monthly through, but not beyond the end of the financial year in March, the entire amount will be paid to you," Thwaites assured. The amount, he said, has been authorised by the minister of finance.
Outstanding upkeep and travelling allowances have been paid up to July 2013, after what Thwaites said was "a considerable period of arrears".
He apologised for this, but assured teachers: "It is our firm intention to keep current going forward."
A one-off payment of $25,000 due this month will be paid to all schools, which have supplied appropriate information.
"I wish to settle as far as I am able, these outstanding financial matters before we get on to other significant subjects to do with the education of our children."
Additionally, the vexed issue of transfer of teachers was addressed by Thwaites, as he made it clear that teachers cannot be forced to transfer from one school to another. However, he appealed for cooperation from teachers to volunteer for the process as the ministry seeks to address the imbalance that exists, where some schools have inadequate teachers.
Regarding study leave, Thwaites admitted that his ministry was guilty of not ensuring that discretionary privileges enshrined in the Code of Regulations have been adhered to.
"This year, given our situation, we are adhering to those," he reported. "I am pleased to report that more than 160 teachers who have applied for study leave, which cannot be effectively taken while they remain in the classroom, have been approved."
Additionally, all 681 applications for vacation leave have been approved.
Thwaites called for evidence-based driven collaboration to improve the education sector.
He has recommended a document that will soon be published by the Ministry of Education titled The Curriculum Improvement Process for Student Enhancement, developed by Radley Reid, past principal of Campion College and current adviser to the ministry in teaching and learning.