An open acknowledgement

Stabroek News
September 15, 1999

After the Minister of Education had more than once denied that Guyanese teachers were departing for foreign climes on account of the poor salaries and conditions, there is evidence of a perceptual shift in Brickdam. Last Friday, Chief Education Officer Ed Caesar (CEO) said at a press conference that a typical reason for leaving Guyana was supplied to him by the last teacher who had notified the Ministry of his departure abroad. He had indicated to the CEO that the offer overseas could make him financially sound for a while.

Mr Caesar expressed the hope that the day would come when we as a nation would be able to compensate our teachers adequately. He was referring, he said, not simply to financial remuneration, but also to other things such as schemes for housing. He went on to report that the Minister and Permanent Secretary were currently looking at the matter of fringe benefits for teachers.

This is good news. The first step to solving any problem is to identify its true nature. There was other good news too. The CEO told reporters that education officers would be asked to report on a daily basis about the impact the loss of teachers was having on the education system. Without this information, of course, it is difficult to make an accurate assessment of either the extent of the emigration or the damage it is causing. Where numbers are concerned everyone has been proceeding hitherto on the basis of anecdotal data - the number of teachers applying for permanent trained teacher certificates in comparison with the norm, the number of applications for leave, etc. The first enlightenment in this regard will come this week when the education officers discover exactly how many teachers have actually turned up for duty in the classrooms.

Mr Caesar admitted that it was not easy to replace experienced and graduate teachers, and was reported as saying that if anyone said the contrary, their only intention was to fool people. He also went on to state that it was not the quantum of teachers which was significant, so much as the quality, since the ones who were likely to leave would be graduates and those with experience. The Ministry, he assured reporters, had a sense of how grave the problem was.

The CEO acknowledged that the Ministry needed to have contingency plans in place to address the problem, or "must begin to think what is possible." Exactly what is possible at this stage is not altogether apparent. Without financial inducements it is hard to retain experienced, qualified teachers, and even harder to attract them back into the system from outside this country, unless, possibly, the Ministry can work some miracles on the housing front. Depending on what the education officers discover, the emigration rate could end up undermining the whole Secondary Schools Reform Project, for example.

However, the Ministry has made a start. It is trying to establish first the extent of the problem in a systematic way, and most of all, it is being open about it with the public. Frank discussion gives the stakeholders in the system - teachers, parents, unionists, etc. - a sense that their views are being taken into account, which will stimulate them to make suggestions, some of which might even be useful in developing the Ministry's strategies.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples