Teachers' union to pursue non-salary issues with ministry
Conditions of service, housing among priorities

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
April 24, 2001

Bringing the Ministry of Education to the table to discuss a range of non-salary issues, an area in which it had been falling behind, would be a priority of the Guyana Teachers' Union (GTU) for the new year, the union's President Bertram Hamilton said.

In an address to the just-concluded 117th Annual Delegates Conference held at the GTU Hall on Woolford Avenue last week, Hamilton said that the union had to participate more actively in the various decision-making levels of the education system.

It also needed to rededicate itself to recommencing serious discussions on a range of non-salary and professional issues such as the revision and use of the annual confidential reports and the development of a structured process of evaluating and granting of credits to teachers who attend professional development programmes.

Hamilton noted that over the past year discussions with the Ministry of Education had not met with the success expected, though there were some pluses such as the ministry agreeing to provide financial assistance to teachers whose children were writing the Caribbean Examinations Council examinations.

As a way of assisting its members, the union has established a Death and Disaster Assistance Programme and the University of Guyana Education Award, while extending the level of bursaries offered to members' children.

Hamilton said that among the issues that remained unresolved were:

* the under-achievement of boys;

* the reduction of class size;

* the identification of definite holiday periods for teachers;

* the reinstatement of the conditions of service for teachers in the hinterland and deep riverain area;

* increases in allowances for additional professional qualifications, specifically teachers who have obtained the Certificate in Education from the University of Guyana.

He claimed that these issues remained unresolved because of the ministry and government's failure to understand the need to improve the working conditions of the Guyanese working population.

Stating that it was necessary for working conditions and conditions of service of teachers to be urgently addressed, Hamilton said that unless this was done Guyana would experience high teacher migration. Over the past two years Guyana lost over 200 trained and graduate teachers to Botswana alone.

Research, he said, had established that over the next four to six years the United States of America would need to find about 2.6 million teachers and England, due to a teacher shortage was currently operating for nine out of ten school days in a two-week cycle.

But Hamilton acknowledged that the union needed to take the blame for the level of discussions between itself and the ministry because it had not been resolute in pursuing some of the burning issues and had allowed the ministry to dictate the pace and frequency of the discussions.

The union also had to reopen the issue of housing for teachers, he said. Last year, the union had written to Minister of Housing, Shaik Baksh, seeking special consideration for teachers, whom Hamilton said were "among the poorest of the poor. We can hardly afford to pay our bills, we struggle from month to month to take care of the basic needs of our families, most of all we do not have our own homes."

The minister's response, he said, demonstrated insensitivity to the needs of the teachers and as such the union was prepared to reopen the issue with the authorities at all levels of the government.

Stating that the union must be prepared to test the government's resolve to provide housing for workers, especially those involved in moulding the nation's youth, Hamilton said that teachers should also be given special consideration for the purchase of materials for the construction of their homes.

On the issue of contingency funds in schools, Hamilton urged President Bharrat Jagdeo to consult with the principal operators in the school system to devise a better system to ensure that much needed financial support could be provided to the schools once again. The President, he said, in an attempt to appease so-called concerned parents decided that there was need to adjust the arrangements for parents contribution to schools' contingency funds without considering the domino effect of such an action. He said that the President's remarks about contingency fees being voluntary had caused the dismantling of a system that had supplemented the inadequate funding government provided the school system.

Parents, the GTU head said, must recognise that regardless of the pronouncements about the adequacy of financial resources the government was willing to provide, there was insufficient funding to adequately service the education sector.

Noting that accountability had become a new watchword, Hamilton said that there was a hue and cry for teachers to be accountable to parents, supervisors and the rest of the community. However, he said, while the GTU supported the concept, accountability went far beyond the teacher in the classroom. He said it encompassed the level of support parents provided to their children and the schools they attended; education officers and the level of education guidance, leadership and support they gave to administrators and ordinary teachers; government officials and the perceived levels of corruption in granting contracts to contractors who were publicly known to have failed to fulfil these in more than one instance; and technical officers at the regional administration level who approved payments to contractors who did sub-standard work on schools.

He said that accountability must serve to correct the total short changing of the education system by all the principal actors and teachers must not be made into scapegoats for the failings of others operating in the educational establishment.