Paying the teachers

Stabroek News
July 19, 1998

Some weeks ago in an address to the graduates of the Cyril Potter College of Education, Dr Kenneth Hunte said that teachers should have the opportunity to maintain a standard of living consistent with their professional roles.

Dr Hunte is not a typical speechmaker whose name was culled from a list of luminaries to add lustre to a graduation exercise; Dr Hunte is the head of the Secondary Schools Reform Programme (SSRP) concerned with improving standards of education in this country.

What he knows, and what all those who have ever spent time working in the school system know, is that money poured into education will not produce results if there are insufficient teachers of quality in the classrooms.

There are arrangements under the present SSRP for in-service training for teachers. While this is undoubtedly useful, it is very difficult to remedy the deficiencies of a poor primary and secondary education at the adult level.

Guyana once boasted some of the best teachers in the region. While despite all the odds there are still a few of them dotted around, the vast majority have migrated. Interestingly, many of them have never left the Caribbean, but have become the mainstay of some of the regional schools, particularly in the small islands.

They are not always comfortable there, since no matter how long they stay they are always perceived as outsiders, but economic considerations deter them from returning home. The solution to the migration problem is better remuneration for teachers.

In his graduation address Dr Hunte also laid emphasis on how poor wages had their impact on the professionalism of teachers. This resulted, he said, in them "seeking other ways to achieve their desired standard of living".

The SSRP head was not prepared to allow the excuse that Guyana is a poor, developing nation which cannot afford to pay its teachers an adequate wage. A solution, he said, could not be beyond the wisdom of the nation's leaders, both in the trade union movement and the government. He is right, of course.

No administration, neither this one nor its predecessors, has ever applied any imagination to the problem. Dr Hunte, for example, had an interesting suggestion to offer: "If cash is not available," he said, "then it is possible to provide alternative benefits such as property and/or land ownership for the teachers".

If the government was serious, it would sit down with the teachers' representatives and consider ways in which the pay and conditions of teachers could be dramatically improved. In the present economic crisis the government will say that it has no money in the Kitty.

Perhaps, however, it needs to reorder its priorities where spending is concerned. It talks a lot about economic development, but sometimes avoids doing those things on which that development is premised, and remunerating teachers adequately is one of them.

In the twenty-first century we will have to survive in a highly competitive global market place operating under a liberalised trade regime. It will be very hard on a small economy like this one. Our capacity to survive will depend to a considerable extent on the level of education of our population.

If we cannot do something about that fairly quickly, then the future will be bleak. And with the best will and all the money in the world, we will be able to do little about it unless we have the teachers. And we won't have the teachers if we do not pay them. ??