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Teachers question public schools overload

Published:Sunday | February 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Nadisha Hunter, Gleaner Writer

Educators across the island have given mixed reaction to the claim by the education ministry that the public-school sector is overstaffed by approximately 1,500 teachers

"I am not surprised by that claim when you look at the established student-teacher ratios," Michael Stewart, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association told
The Sunday Gleaner

Stewart also pointed out that some graduates of teachers colleges have not been able to find jobs two years after completing their training.

However, Sharon Reid, president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (JAPSS), expressed surprise at the 1,500 figure, which she said appeared unrealistic.

Realistic view

"If you are going to use straight pupil-to-teacher ratio you might get that figure, but a realistic view needs to be taken, which may not bring that result," Reid said.

Under the guidelines established by the education ministry, there should be 35 students to each teacher at the primary level; 25:1 at the secondary level, and 15:1 in sixth forms.

Using those numbers, the ministry has determined that there are too many teachers in the system.

But Reid argued that it needs deeper analysis. "I know that we have some schools in the remote areas that, even if there are two teachers, you may say it is overstaffed, but it is not practical to say that, because there needs to be a minimum number of persons to run any institution," she said.

Reid added: "There needs to be some rationalisation because some schools are really suffering being understaffed while some schools, if they are so overstaffed, then how are they going to deal with that?" she said.

Operations crippled

The JAPSS president pointed to St Andrew Technical High School, which she leads, as a prime example of an institution where limited staff is crippling the operations.

"We have had to employ more than 20 part-time teachers who are not paid by the ministry so that our programmes could be properly administered," she disclosed.

Stewart agreed with Reid that the deployment of teachers needs to be looked at.

"While the numbers say we are overstaffed, there are still many primary schools with one teacher having 60 children in a classroom. You have high-school classes with 45 or 50 children and not the 25 as mandated by the ministry," Reid said.

"The ministry needs to look at how it deploys teachers because it is untenable for teachers to have so many children in one classroom," added Reid.