Opposition Spokesperson on Education and Training Senator Damion Crawford and his junior spokesperson counterpart, Rasheen Roper-Robinson, are together advocating for better treatment of teachers in light of their economic and mental condition and the threat of high teacher migration.
Roper-Robinson, who opened the People’s National Party (PNP) press conference yesterday (August 17), slammed what she considered the Government’s ‘mixed priorities’.
“If we are able to find money for beautiful signs and parks and things of that nature, we must be able to move the educational system and the compensation of our teachers to the forefront of our discussions,” said Roper-Robinson.
The two took issue with Government’s unpreparedness for the upcoming reopening of schools and nonchalance with teacher migration, citing Education Minister Fayval Williams’ 2019 statement that attrition numbers as high as 735 teachers were “in line with global standards”.
In addition to compensation, Roper-Robinson pointed out the need for a “solid mental health response or programme” for teachers to access noting that many teachers have growing anxiety from financial concerns, burnout and other mental health concerns due to the social climate.
As a suggested response, Roper-Robinson said that the number of guidance counsellors in schools should be increased from one-per-1,000 students to three-per-1,000 students, and include a staff-exclusive, in-house guidance counsellor to better manage the rigours of teaching.
Another suggestion was mandating teachers take their vacation leave, which, according to Roper-Robinson, many teachers use holiday time to prepare for the upcoming semesters and do not take the necessary time to recover, sometimes withholding it from themselves for over a decade.
“In the midst of COVID, when we returned to face-to-face classes, there was a mental health response for students but teachers were left out. Teachers have been complaining about burnout concerns from before the pandemic,” said Roper-Robinson.
“We forget that even earlier this year we had a slew of teachers dying back to back and that would have had its own impact on teachers who had to return to the classrooms every singe day and would have had to teach and counsel and be there for students as if they themselves weren’t affected mentally,” she continued.
Roper-Robinson, who spent nine years as a high school teacher in Kingston before entering politics, points to her own first-hand experience with many of the ongoing issues surrounding educators in the nation’s public system.
The PNP reiterates the following proposals:
- Immediately invest in the upgrading of staff rooms to create an adequate and comfortable environment for teachers to work from.
- Consider motor vehicle concessions for varying percentages for teachers serving five years, 10 years, and 15 years uninterrupted.
- Reduce student loans by five per cent for every year a teacher stays within the public education system.
- Arrange for a special teachers limit of J$14 million per person from the NHT and a one per cent interest rate which transforms into a normal loan once a teacher leaves the system.
- Negotiate a package deal with telecom providers for teachers to receive internet as a necessary tool of trade.
- Create teacher/public sector housing schemes with rent control strategies in desirable communities.
- Review the funds being allocated for a STEM school for students to a STEM school for teachers thus training the trainers.
- Hold further negotiations with private sector entities to offer teacher discounts.
- Reduce the ‘red tape’ for principals to fill temporary spots in the short term with retired and pre-trained teachers.
- Negotiate with the private sector to allow staff so inclined to take two (three-hour sessions) to participate in teaching courses where shortages have been identified.
- Offer teaching training free of cost during the summer months for all university students and welcome others with degrees or diplomas that are willing to consider teaching.
- Recruit retired teachers into mentorship roles to assist teachers.