Teacher exodus lowest since 1982 and 1992 - Bisnauth - housing among incentives being proposed to stem flow

Stabroek News
April 23, 1999

The recent migration of teachers, particularly in February/March is the lowest number of Guyanese teachers to leave the country in any single year since 1982 and 1992, Education Minister Dr Dale Bisnauth, says.

Some eighty teachers left for Botswana in south west Africa in February and early March of this year. In his presentation to the National Assembly during the recent debate on the budget, Dr Bisnauth said the movement of teachers to the private sector or overseas must concern the Ministry of Education and the nation particularly because "it is overwhelmingly financial" and not for political reasons.

Responding to the issue of the migration of teachers because of poor salaries raised by a number of opposition PNC members of parliament, Dr Bisnauth said that the ministry is at present engaged in discussions with the Guyana Teachers Union to put together an incentive package that may encourage teachers to remain in Guyana.

Putting the matter of teacher migration in perspective, he said that he did not want to be interpreted as universalising the problem away.

He said that if "80 accurately represents the number of teachers who allegedly migrated to Botswana recently and I doubt that... even if it is 120, that has been the lowest number of Guyanese in any one year to have migrated since 1982 and 1992."

He said that "at least they have gone in response to an advertisement that promises a better wage than we can afford at this time. We cannot cope with the competition financed with the diamonds of Botswana."

He recalled that in October 1983, because of the large exodus of teachers at the beginning of the school year, the then Chief Education Officer, M.T. Lowe, wrote "We do not know what we can do to stop it, short of preventing people from leaving the country." That year, Dr Bisnauth said, the education vote was topped up by 50 per cent. Teachers left city schools. St Stanislaus College lost six teachers at the same time. That same year, he added, 3,402 Guyanese arrived in Toronto alone. One in four, he claimed, was a teacher, all applying for refugee status in Canada.

Finance alone was not the problem then and finance alone is not the problem now, he argued. While noting that at least three teachers who left said they were leaving for domestic reasons, he asked the opposition PNC to explain the exit from the classrooms of a number of teachers including Bernadette Persaud, Sister Hazel Campayne, Bonita Harris, Chandradat Deonandand and Peter Jailall among others.

He said that between 1982 and 1992 the interesting thing was that there was no advocate, no union to plead their cause or to use the fact that their exit from the classroom was for better wages.

At least, he said, the PPP/Civic government is doing something about addressing the welfare and well being of teachers including making it possible for some who have returned to suffer no broken service. In some cases, retraining was necessary and in others, promotion. The ministry, he said, "will do the same, for returnees from Botswana and elsewhere."

He added that "we are not a revenue earning ministry, consequently, we have to do all within our power to make the best possible representation to the responsible ministries."

Some of the GTU's recommendations are reasonable and implementable, and since "the matter is of concern to us, together we can solve it", the minister said.

Noting that other efforts are in train to deal with the issue, Dr Bisnauth said that the ministry is also looking at housing for teachers as part of an acceptable incentive package to keep trained and qualified teachers within the profession.

Except for the Guyana Sugar Corporation at cane harvesting time, he said that the Ministry of Education is the largest employer of labour.

He said that in the past, government has dealt with the issue of salary increases for teachers successfully to the point where salaries for teachers outstripped those of other public servants, an anomaly where those who administered the system and who were employed by the Public Service Commission were earning less than those of the Ministry whom they supervised.

The Ministry of Education managed to get that age-old anomaly where teachers earned more than their supervisors resolved last year after representation was made to Cabinet. (Miranda La Rose)