Trained teachers are not staying

Stabroek News
July 16, 2001

Some of the findings of the McRae report which was commissioned by the Ministry of Education to review its 1995-2000 education plan are quite eye-opening.

As we reported in yesterday's Sunday Stabroek, the report found that even though there was massive financial investment in the training of teachers, the complement of trained teachers over the five-year period was virtually static. Of the 9,098 teachers in the system over the period of study only 50% were trained. Despite the estimated 2,000 primary school teachers who have graduated since 1995, the total number in that sector rose by only 120 which means an astonishing1,880 new graduates and established teachers ditched their jobs. Where did they go? The McRae report said that they had either gone to the private sector or taken up lucrative offers overseas. In the secondary system, there was relatively better news where out of the 700 teachers trained there was a net gain of around 600.

It is always good to take stock of the success/failure of big-ticket programmes like teacher training and retention and this is something that should have been done earlier. For years, the complement of trained teachers has been haemorrhaging under the hammer blows of recruitment by Botswana, the Caribbean and North America and also by a strong desire by teachers for self-improvement for them and their families and for a chance to make a living.

Though this erosion of the trained teacher complement has been recognised for many years, there has been little in-depth analysis of the phenomenon by the Education Ministry and precious little information. For instance, what are the actual numbers of trained and other teachers leaving the system per annum and from which parts of the education system? What becomes of these teachers? Do they all stay in the profession or use their trained teacher status as a stepping stone for other professions? Which countries are the major attractions and how could their recruitment strategies be countered? What would teachers in the system who have offers be willing to accept as a compromise to stay here? Is there any prospect of convincing some of those who have gone to come back into the system? Does the ministry stay in touch with these teachers?

A serious strategy has to be devised to keep trained teachers at home otherwise taxpayers are simply dumping hard-earned dollars into a great black hole while the country loses scarce talent. The dilemma facing the education ministry is really a national one that confronts all sectors of the country, however, because of the scale of the public education system and its importance to the advancement of the nation's learning, the problem is pernicious.

What is particularly unnerving about the McRae report is the number of trained teachers lost at the primary level (1,820 in five years) when the formative years of children's learning are absolutely crucial to them becoming educable and going forward in the secondary system and onwards to tertiary education. So while we have had hundreds of primary schools refurbished and rebuilt the all-important trained teachers are not there.

Sadly, the McRae report noted that despite the increases in salaries over the period under study, teachers had still left the system. Later on, it suggested that the focus should not only be on salary hikes but a package of benefits.

This is what the government and the Guyana Teachers' Union (GTU) must start addressing. Given the economic constraints affecting the country and the migration pull it will be impossible to either meet the full needs of teachers or to prevent their migration. What must be done is to work with those thousands of qualified teachers who are serious about staying in Guyana to give them a fighting chance to make a living here. In the context of the burgeoning housing drive, couldn't trained teachers be provided with a house lot and a basic housing unit for as long as they remained in the system? Couldn't the government and the union devise a scheme where teachers and the state contribute to a retirement fund scheme? What about guaranteeing the tertiary education of the children of trained teachers and absorbing a portion of the transportation costs of these teachers? These initiatives will cost money but at the end of the day are we not frittering away more than this in training teachers for the education of Botswana, The Bahamas and the USA? These special benefits should also be seen as part of a drive to make the profession of teaching an attractive life-long career.

The findings of the report should be an area for the urgent attention of the new education minister, the government and the GTU.