No mass exodus of teachers, says Williams
Jamaica’s Minister of Education Fayval Williams has dispelled the notion that there is a “mass exodus” of teachers from the classroom annually.
While acknowledging that compensation of teachers was a sore point, Williams said that there was no empirical data giving credence to the narrative that educators were leaving the island in droves for better-paying markets.
Williams disclosed that 731, or three per cent, of the country’s 24,000 teachers left the profession between 2020 and 2021. That ratio, she argued was within the range of internationally accepted benchmarks –whether in the education or other sectors.
“That gives us room to bring in new teachers into the system,” Williams said during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on Wednesday.
The minister’s remark was in response to teacher-migration concerns cited by Jamaica Teachers’ Association President Winston Smith.
Smith, while agreeing that the migration was not an exodus, said that many teachers had resigned for higher-paying jobs even amid incremental pay rises over the years.
Smith said that highly skilled and experienced teachers, especially with growing families, were among those exiting local classrooms for better-paid jobs in the public or private sector.
“As you move along the line of gaining experience, exposure, and qualification, at about the sixth or seventh points of the scale, applying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or the needs theory principle, you realise that a teacher, at that time, starts to receive what are called ‘diminishing returns’ in terms of compensation.
“The needs of the teacher after six, seven years, post-college, start to change and give rise to a greater economic drawdown on the resources gained from his or her trade. As a result, these teachers start to look outside the classroom for better remuneration,” the JTA president said.
Smith said that many of the country’s teachers were single parents, making it difficult for them to own a home.
“So they leave because they need to survive,” he said.
Smith recalled having known of teachers who were so badly off that they were forced to borrow money to pay bus fare to go home.
Those concerns will likely be exacerbated in the current economic climate, with near 10 per cent inflation in January. The price of food, petrol, and other commodities has skyrocketed over the past three to six months.
“We’re not talking about extravagant living. We’re talking about simply paying rent, utilities, transportation to and from school. So teachers are leaving the sector simply because they are not able to make ends meet with a salary,” said Smith, while calling for improved compensation.