Commit more resources to education – JTA president-elect candidates
Candidates vying for leadership of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) have called for the Government to chart a clear and comprehensive path to regaining lost ground in learning and to commit more resources in a school year deeply compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most students have been barred from face-to-face classes since March 2020 and online classes have been deemed problematic, with 120,000 children not captured in any formal learning.
The 90-minute debate, held at the JTA’s WBC (Ben) Hawthorne Conference Room in Kingston on Wednesday, featured La Sonja Harrison, principal, Saint Faith’s Primary School in St Catherine; Leighton Johnson, principal of Muschett High School, Trelawny; Anthony Kennedy, teacher, Kings Primary and Infant School in Westmoreland; Eaton McNamee, principal at Broadleaf Primary and Infant School in Manchester; and Timroy Shaw, principal of the Highgate Primary and Junior High School, St Mary.
The winner will serve as president-elect for the 2021-2022 conference and then as president for 2022-2023 conference year.
Harrison said that she does not believe that online school should be integrated into the public education system full-time.
“It is certainly not a reality that I would say that we can sustain at this time. Many of our schools did not transition well. We have been lacking the resources and we have continued to lack the resources,” she said.
Harrison added: “Our teachers and students must start to plan how it is that we will return to the classroom and to continue teaching and learning,” Harrison said, at least until the necessary infrastructure and a work-from-home honorarium and technology allowance are provided for teachers.
In addressing the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it has had on the students, Johnson is lobbying for the Government to assess and diagnose the children and to make the appropriate changes to the curriculum or develop a remedial programme.
“As we move forward, schools would now have to develop a strategy, develop a plan. Contextualise the curriculum to suit those students. As they go along, they would now have to extend the day,” he said, noting that it should either be in the early morning or late afternoon.
This suggestion comes just before Kennedy’s pushback on summer school. Instead, he proposed that teachers in training in the final year should be tasked with nursing the students back to an acceptable level in the first semester of returning to face-to-face classes.
“Have them take these students who are lacking in the areas of literacy and help them improve on their skills before they are placed back into the normal classroom,” Kennedy shared.
However, McNamee questioned the accuracy of how learning lost is being measured. He voiced that if voted president-elect, he would be keen on collaboration and equity as two key areas to lay the foundation of the resurrection of the education system.
“We have had some exceptional things coming out of COVID-19. Some effective practices are in the grids. We need to replicate those effective practices,” he said.
Importantly, McNamee stressed the need for Government to listen and place value on the voice of the teachers when making decisions that will affect them.
“Equity must be across the board,” McNamee added.
In debating issues ranging from school security, infrastructure, licensing, changes to early childhood learning and the training of more special education teachers, all candidates underlined the need for the Government to attract and retain teachers, especially in the rural areas.
Harrison and McNamee said the Government needs to go beyond the remuneration package being provided.
“One of the reasons many teachers may leave for a little while is because they want to ensure that they have their home and a better pension,” Harrison said.
McNamee, expressing similar sentiments, candidly stated that the Jamaican Government need to provide other incentives for teachers as they are unable to compete with foreign employers.
“After 15 years of service to this country they should be able to access NHT benefits at no interest rates, they should be able to own a car with no concession,” he said, reiterating points from his manifesto.
Posed with a choice between improved classroom conditions and what many stakeholders see as a long-overdue salary increase, Shaw said improved infrastructure is the better option for lasting results.
“I believe that if we improve infrastructure then we would spend less of our salary and health benefit,” he said, explaining that a higher salary will still be depleted because of lack of infrastructure.
But Kennedy fired back with a rebuttal, claiming that “over the years, teachers have been the scapegoat and the sacrificial lambs”. He made an earnest plea to teachers to stop putting the place that they work and their employer above themselves.