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Not adding up! - Math teachers flee classrooms leaving students in a bind

Published:Friday | October 9, 2015 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites speaks with students of the Swallowfield Primary and Junior High School in St Andrew during a service to launch National Mathematics Week last March.
Paul Bailey
George Henry
Norman Allen
Heather Murray

Scores of the island's children, already underperforming in mathematics, are being put at a further disadvantage because of the shortage of trained teachers for the critical subject.

Checks with several schools across the island revealed that a number of them are struggling to find mathematics teachers, as many have taken up lucrative job offers overseas.

Among the institutions struggling is Holmwood Technical High, which is yet to replace its mathematics teacher for first- to fifth-form students after he took up a job in England during the summer break.

"We definitely need two math teachers urgently. We need somebody up to CAPE (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination)," said Paul Bailey, principal of the Manchester-based school.

"I received approval to replace the teachers, but can't find anybody. I have been calling the colleges, but no luck so far, as a number of teachers have migrated and a number are in the ministry's coaching pool."

Bailey said someone has been taken on part-time to work with the CAPE students, while teachers of other subjects have had to be supervising the other mathematics classes.

He conceded that those other teachers don't have the expertise or time to properly execute the mathematics curriculum.

Spalding High, located in Clarendon, also faced a similar issue following the summer break, as its mathematics teacher did not turn up for duty, having also taken up an opportunity abroad.

However, Principal George Henry was fortunate to find a replacement. "I lost two (mathematics teachers) within weeks of each other. One resigned for personal reasons and the other for overseas," said Henry.

"I replaced the one that resigned first and I'm looking to replace the next one."




According to the Ministry of Education, performance in the 2015 Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) in mathematics declined some 3.7 per cent.

The decline in students' performances in mathematics-related subjects in the 2015 CAPE results was even worse, as there was a 5.4 percentage point decrease in the average pass rate for combined units of pure maths and a 10.1 percentage point decline in applied maths.

Bailey believes given the struggles the nation's children are already experiencing in such a vital subject, losing teachers in this area must be of serious concern to not only the principals, but to the Government.

"It is a serious brain drain, because right now, nationally, we are not doing well in terms of mathematics, and some of the teachers that are migrating are some of the best we have," said Bailey.

"And I am concerned about what is coming from the teachers' colleges now. We just have to work with what we can get and see how best we can train them to bring them up to par to get better performances among the student population.

"But I am concerned, because we cannot afford to be training mathematics teachers and English teachers and they spend maybe two years or so in the system and then disappear. It is a serious brain drain and taxpayers are losing out."

President of the principals association, Heather Murray, said based on feedback she has been getting, a number of schools are in dire need of math teachers, with rural-area schools being more severely affected.

"I lost two (teachers) since year, and another one to England last year, and we didn't hear until the very last minute when they got through, because they don't have a very long window of time to tell you.

"We were fortunate, because we were able to replace the math teacher, but we didn't get a physics teacher until October, so we started the term without one," said Murray, who is also principal of The Hampton School.

"In the Kingston area, they have universities close by, so persons work part-time easily. In the rural areas, it is not so easy at all and is very difficult to replace, particularly math and science teachers - not so much biology, but chemistry and physics."




According to Murray, the students who are most affected are those preparing for CAPE, because although the universities and colleges are training teachers, they are moving on to greener pastures.

"To get a CAPE math, physics or chemistry teacher is not easy at all as they go to the business companies like the engineering companies. I have had to depend on a retired chemistry teacher for the last five years," Murray highlighted.

Jamaica Teachers' Association President Norman Allen said while he is fully aware that there are very experienced teachers who are leaving the system to go overseas to seek employment, he understands the reason for them doing so.

"I am not discouraging any teacher who sees an opportunity that is going to provide for them a better way of life, in their view," said Allen.

"So the system has to be a little more tolerable, understanding, and I might even add knowledgeable. Because if persons recognise the issue facing the system, I think they would be a little more understanding."

Allen added that while he appreciates the value of experience, schools need to look to the teachers' colleges to fill vacancies.

"I know it is difficult; it is going to be added work, because they would have been just out of college, and for areas like CAPE and CXC, it is going to be a lot of work to get these persons ready," Allen reasoned. "But we can't dispel the fact that the teachers' colleges are turning out trained math teachers."