School boards need more authority to discipline
-Education Minister told at meeting
Teaching Service Commission comes under attack

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
June 26, 2001

The functioning of a number of school boards and the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) came under fire when Education Minister Dr Henry Jeffrey met yesterday with members of the boards and other stakeholders in education.

Members feel that more authority to discipline staff should be vested in boards so that they could properly carry out their mandate.

The main issues of concern were limited authority to hire and fire teachers, indiscipline and the need for a code of conduct for staff, reluctance to impose sanctions, conflict arising from duplication and failure to understand the roles of the board and the school administration.

The meeting to introduce the new minister to the boards at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel lasted 75 minutes and ended with the promise to meet within a month's time to brainstorm and find solutions to some of the problems facing the boards.

In 1994 four school boards, in addition to the President's College Board of Governors which came into being as an Act of Parliament in 1991, were set up with the permission of then education minister Dr Dale Bisnauth. Boards were established for Queen's College, the Anna Regina Multilateral School, the Cyril Potter College of Education and the Government Technical Institute.

The boards came into being as a pilot project and others were to follow. No new broads were appointed since 1994, although Dr Jeffrey in his brief address said that ideally all schools should come under the management of boards to involve communities and all other stakeholders.

Though the Coordinator of the School Boards Secretariat told Stabroek News that plans are in train to establish another six, she did not disclose the names of the schools.

The Assistant Coordinator of the Secretariat, Joyce De Weever gave a background to the establishment and functioning of the school boards but this was questioned by the Guyana Teachers' Union representative on the TSC, George Cave who noted that their establishment and functioning contradicts the country's Constitution.

However, Dr Jeffrey felt that there were ways of dealing with the issue such as making state-owned entities like schools into public corporations according to the Public Corporations Act. In that way some authority could be vested in bodies with specific roles such as with the TSC, which is the sole authority in the teaching profession to appoint, effect transfers and dismiss teachers.

Cave noted, in the background to the establishment of the boards, that in spite of the roles laid out for board members, no mention was made of the part the TSC plays.

The hiring and firing of teachers is a major issue at present, he said but it does not seem to be a priority issue for government. Noting that the authority to hire and fire a teacher rests with the TSC, Cave said that both the TSC and Prime Minister Sam Hinds in December 1999 took a very stupid decision "as a matter of politics" to rescind the powers of Regional Education Officers" to make appointments "based on nebulous and unproven allegations, some of which could be levelled at the TSC itself".

There is now a need, he said, for the minister in looking at local control beyond school boards and regional education officers, to appoint to the TSC persons of merit who can do the job. The new TSC is due to be reconstituted in August.

Whatever the new appointments, Cave said that the commissioners would have to "shape up or ship out" and to work within the ambit of the law.

Commenting on the functioning of the board at the GTI on the issues of sanctions, hiring and firing, board member Brigadier (rtd) Norman McLean said that he believed in discipline coming from a military background with 30 years of service. However, as a GTI board member for the past 10 years he has noted the lack of discipline among staff members that is condoned by the ministry of education.

McLean said that in spite of persistent complaints to the ministry, some staff members are still able to collect their salaries under false pretence. They work elsewhere during the hours they should be at the institute, leaving students unattended. The drop-out rate and the failures are great and due in large part to this attitude, he declared.

He said that in dealing with the issue, transfers are recommended and so the problems move towards the areas where the transfers are effected.

However, Cave noted, the TSC has dismissed a number of teachers, but "probably" not the number he would have liked to see dismissed. Some have remained on the job because of the "political culture" of the TSC, he contended.

In his brief address, Dr Jeffrey said that he has found the problems of education, unlike health and industrial relations, for which he was previously responsible, are more difficult to solve. For instance in the Ministry of Health, the problems are more or less set out in chronological order and are more or less straightforward.

It is not the same with education, he stated, noting that even though the main problem in education -- functional illiteracy -- could be easily identified, getting to the core of solving it is not done by just one avenue. Every aspect of education has to be touched to deal with the issue, he said.

The other key issue in education, he noted, was that of stakeholders' participation and this was where school boards could play a vital role.

He feels that every school should have a board of directors in place along with a school improvement plan (SIP) but he noted the inherent difficulty that would arise from coordinating the activities of boards of over 1,000 schools.

In visits throughout the country on a familiarisation tour, he observed that when the community is involved schools tended to do better. He cited the example of a school in Region Two where the headmaster was integrally involved in staff development and training. The Parent Teacher Association and community are also actively involved in the school's programmes.