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Students left idle - Children in public schools short-changed by lack of substitute-teacher programme

Published:Sunday | December 16, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

Two years after an unpublished report examining escalating teacher absenteeism was submitted to the Ministry of Education, the Jamaican Government has failed to act on its recommendation to implement a substitute-teacher programme (STP) designed to eliminate the practice of leaving students unattended and without work to do.

The study highlighting the need for substitute teachers was prepared by the
Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) using data on teacher absences from a
select number of schools that was gleaned from the education ministry's
six regional offices across the island.

The 12-page
study, urging the Government to consider the backup teacher system,
concluded that students were being shortchanged contact hours when their
regular teacher goes on leave or is sick.

teachers are entitled to take statutory casual and sick leave, it would
appear when they do exercise this right, valuable lessons are
compromised and/or instruction might be suspended which generally has a
direct impact on the curriculum covered, student discipline issues and
indirect effect on student-assessment outcomes," read a section of the
report proposing the establishment of an STP.

appears that based on the small sampling of teacher absences taken from
the six regions, there is a demand for substitutes to work with students
when their regular classroom teachers are absent from school," the
report added.

Providing a backdrop to the need for the
STP, the JTC stated categorically that classroom-teacher absenteeism
was on the rise.

"In early October 2009 during a visit
to a secondary school in Region Six, teacher absenteeism was noticeable
after visiting five different classrooms. Students were left unattended
and without the supervision of an adult during the regular school day.
When asked about their teachers' whereabouts, the students reported that
the teacher was either absent due to personal illness, away attending
an extra-curricular school function or professional development

"In all events, there was an interruption to
the instructional contact time. Upon returning to the main office, we
alerted the school's administration of our findings, and the
administration reported not having a substitute-teacher programme in
place as there were no provisions in their budget to supply students
with a substitute teacher when their regular classroom teacher was
absent from school."


After carefully highlighting the pitfalls of
the current system, the JTC requested that the education ministry move
with alacrity to approve the "recruitment of qualified persons to fill
in as substitute teachers beginning September 2010 (2010-2011 school
year)" because it would ensure that schoolchildren in Jamaica do not
"spend a significant portion of their educational careers without
instruction when their classroom teacher is absent from

That did not happen.

eventually implemented by the Government, the STP would use trained,
retired and unemployed teachers to provide coverage for students when
their regular classroom teacher is away from school due to short- and
long-term leaves. Efforts to get a comment from top ministry officials
were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the study showed that
some schools have resorted to utilising parents, who are untrained
teachers, to fill in for teachers when they are away at workshops or on

"It must be noted that some selected secondary
schools have existing relationships with parent and community
organisations that they rely on for providing substitution when a
teacher is away from school, however, that was left to the school's
administration and there were no guarantees that these substitutes were
trained teachers who are skilled at delivering quality lessons," the JTC

The teaching council also concluded that the
interruption in contact hours when teachers are not replaced is directly
linked to the poor academic performance being churned out by many
schools annually.

"Value is taken away from the system
when students do not perform adequately on the annual assessments. In
an effort to improve the educational outcomes for all students,
instituting a substitute teacher to fill in when a regular classroom
teacher is absent will decrease the interruption of student contact time
with teachers," stated another section of the

The JTC also believes that implementing the
recommended STP would yield marked improvements in student-discipline
issues because students would not be left unattended and

  • Excerpts
    from the Substitute Teacher Proposal prepared by JTC
  • Ten per cent of the teaching staff for any given school is entitled to
    go on leave each school year providing they have the number of years of
    continuous service.

  • Teachers are
    eligible for leave (vacation & study); however, the teacher
    should work at least five years of continuous service and must be
    permanently appointed.

  • They are
    eligible for four months' leave full pay after completing five years of
    continuous service and eight months' leave full pay with 10 years of
    continuous service. At this time, MOE makes provisions to have temporary
    teachers fill in when qualified teachers take study/vacation

  • Teachers are also entitled
    to 12 days of departmental leave for the school year (permanent, acting
    or temporary). However, the teacher cannot take more than three days
    without submitting a medical certificate, and departmental leaves must
    get prior approval. At this time, MOE does not make system-wide
    provisions to have substitute teachers fill in when a teacher takes sick
    and/or casual


is anticipated that the STP will receive funding from MOE as a perk
like sick and casual leaves. The part-time rates compensation for
substitute teachers will be that from salaries and allowances from the
general teaching service. Substitute teachers will be compensated when
they work for an amount of $1,050.00 per hour (non graduate) and
$1,359.00 per hour (graduate). They will not be compensated for being
retained on the roster of registered substitute teachers since they will
receive compensation when they work. If the teacher on call is retained
at the school for the day, the school must pay them a retainer. This
should be added to the annual education budget.