April 30, 2000
The Teaching Service Commission (TSC) recently advertised 717 teaching vacancies in the nation's schools. And these represent only senior posts; the vacant junior and temporary positions have not yet been advertised. Based on the information contained in the TSC advertisement, it would seem that the secondary schools are possibly the hardest hit sector. They require 265 heads of department alone, in addition to 39 senior masters/mistresses, 15 deputy heads and 21 heads. The vacancies in the last-named category are for schools such as St Rose's High, Leonora, North Ruimveldt Multilateral, Tagore Memorial, Bartica, Linden Foundation, Skeldon High and Annai. At the primary level, applications are being invited for 148 heads, 33 deputy heads, and 77 senior masters/mistresses, while the nursery system is in want of 92 heads and five senior masters/mistresses. What the picture will look like when all the vacancies are made public is not clear, but even as things stand it is grim enough.
In our edition last Sunday we reported that this newspaper had on several occasions sought interviews with the Chairman of the TSC on the state of the teaching service and the vacancies which exist throughout the country, but to no avail. Even without his comments, however, the evidence would seem to suggest that the haemorrhage of qualified educators is continuing uninterrupted. It is true that in the recent Budget the new Minister of Finance announced a pay increase for teachers this year in excess of the arbitral award of 1999, and which equates in percentage terms to that received by public servants. Laudable though this move is, it is unlikely at this stage to reverse the prevailing trend which is seeing the cream of the teaching profession leave the service.
So what is to be done? The first thing, perhaps, is that the Ministry of Education has to recognize that it has a crisis on its hands. No teachers spells no education, no matter what sophisticated programmes are being pursued for reforming the school system. Then it has to look at stop-gap emergency moves, as opposed to the longer term measures which would be necessary to anchor the teachers to the Guyanese schools. Where the latter are concerned, the Government already has programmes on stream, of course, for the in-service and regional training of teachers, but that is a wasted investment if a qualification merely serves as a springboard to emigration. The Budget gesture suggests that the administration has come around to the view that remuneration is at the bottom of the problem. It is. Having said that, however, it has to be acknowledged that the Ministry of Education is unlikely to be able to pay its teachers salaries which are competitive even with those of the anglophone Caribbean for some time to come. That fact notwithstanding, there are still things which could be done to improve conditions and make available ancillary benefits which might serve as inducements for graduate and qualified teaching staff to remain in the system. Some of these, such as housing, had been raised in discussions with the Guyana Teachers Union at an earlier stage. Certainly those kinds of possible incentives need to be explored with rather more vigour and purposefulness than appears to have been the case until now.
In general too, the Ministry needs to initiate open dialogue with the teachers, no doubt through the agency of the union, to hear what they have to say about the problem, and how they feel the general school environment could be made more teacher friendly, in addition, incidentally, to becoming more conducive to the education of students. If staff are dissatisfied, apart from being underpaid and as a consequence are leaving the profession, it is simple common sense to find out the nature of their difficulties in some detail, and hold discussions as to whether anything can be done to alleviate them.
As far as stop-gap measures are concerned, the Ministry has not, as far as anyone is aware at this stage, come up with the outline of any emergency plan. The senior officials need to consider the matter with some urgency, before a whole generation is set adrift in a competitive, globalized world under-educated, if not actually functionally illiterate.