Down the drain - Jamaican students lose years of teaching and learning during school career because of a lack of substitute teachers
Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
Teacher-absence data collected by the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) from a select number of schools across the island shows that students are cumulatively losing years' worth of contact hours because of a failure to replace teachers who go on sick or casual leave.
The uncomplimentary statistics are contained in an unpublished report prepared by the JTC more than two years ago urging the Government to immediately implement a substitute-teacher programme.
To capture the number of days teachers used for sick and/or casual leave within a given timeframe, the JTC requested information from the education ministry's six regional offices showing teacher absences during the first term of the 2009-2010 school year.
Each region had to submit the requested information on two primary schools, two all-age schools and two secondary schools.
"During the first term of this school year, September 7, 2009 to December 16, 2009 (69 school days), the total number of days teachers were absent from the two selected primary schools totalled 137, while the two selected all-age schools totalled 115. It should be noted that in some secondary schools, teacher absence on a particular day affects several classes that he/she might be timetabled for. The total number of casual and sick leaves at the three selected secondary schools was 381.5 over the same period," read a segment of the report summarising the stats for Region One.
The JTC received study and vacation leave data for each approved individual in Region Two for the 2009-10 school year and provisions were made by the education ministry to have replacement personnel cover during the approved time periods which ranged from 64 to 730 school days.
However, the study also pointed out that "if one should calculate the number of teacher absences taken from the selected institutions for the first 69 days (36 per cent of school year) of the 190 days that make up a school year, one can conclude that students in Region One lost a total of three years and three months of their schooling".
Over in Region Three, "students in the selected schools lost two years and seven months of their schooling". In Region Four, students lost six years and two months of their educational career and in Region Six students lost four years and five months of their schooling.
The JTC is convinced that creating a substitute-teacher programme would contribute to improved educational outcomes for teachers and students.
"Teachers are essential to student achievement. However, when teachers are absent from duty, some for short periods of time (casual and sick leaves) and others for lengthy time (study and vacation leaves) schools find it difficult to meet the academic and safety needs of students," the teaching council argued.