The teacher crisis

Stabroek News
October 11, 1998

A paper presented by the Ministry of Finance at a recent forum dealing with the global economic situation and the local economy says that the all-round development of the nation depends on major improvements in the education system. Too true. If our economic planners take their own words at all seriously, they must have been particularly disheartened by the CXC results published in Ian on Sunday last week. Taking the two most basic subjects, only 3.3 per cent of those who sat English A got a Grade 1, while 4.4 per cent managed a Grade II and a mere 14.6 per cent a Grade III - the lowest pass grade under the new system. In Mathematics two per cent passed with a Grade I, five per cent with a Grade II and 10.9 per cent with a Grade III. Those figures hardly suggest that our population is a very competitive one for surviving in a world where globalization will be the order of the day.

The Government is full of plans and remedies for the ills of the education system, but it doesn't matter too much what those plans are, because at best they will make only a modest difference to the situation if there continues to be a haemmorhage of qualified teachers from the schools. And the evidence indicates that the haemorrhage is going on.

The Digest of Educational Statistics of Guyana for 1996-97, has some interesting figures about the intake and loss from the teaching profession in the secondary schools. In September 1996, for example, there was a total of 3,009 teachers in the secondary school system, and by July 1997 this number had decreased to 2,979. The loss was particularly noticeable in the case of qualified teachers, both trained and untrained. In all, during the course of that school year eighty-six such teachers were lost, twenty-four of them trained graduates and ten untrained graduates. In addition, thirty-seven trained teachers who were qualified but not graduates left, plus fifteen who were non-graduate qualified, but untrained. In contrast, there was an increase in the number of unqualified, acting teachers in the system over the period in question.

Admittedly, these are only the figures for a single school year, but it is probably fairly safe to extrapolate and conclude that they represent a trend: fewer qualified and/or trained teachers in the system, and a greater reliance on unqualified teachers. We should not be surprised at the dismal results our students are getting; plenty books and good teachers have always been the key to success, and at the moment this country has an acute shortage of both.

The Secondary Schools Reform Project has grandiose plans for the in-service training of unqualified teachers. The first problem with this is that the Ministry will have no guarantee that they will not decamp to the Caribbean islands, or even further afield (the Botswana Government advertised in the local newspapers for qualified teachers in certain subject areas recently) once they are certified. The second problem is that training a large number of teachers whose educational foundation is shaky, will not have the kind of impact on the system an infusion of teachers whose tertiary learning is grounded on a sound primary and secondary education base would have.

Since the Government is now apparently convinced that there will be no development without education, let them declare a teacher crisis, and invite suggestions from teachers, parents, educators, economists, the public - whoever - as to how the money can be found to pay teachers realistic salaries and attract them back from the Caribbean schools. If the Government cannot pay competitive salaries, let them dialogue with the public for ideas on other stop-gap measures.

Even a CXC student knows that the equation is simple: no teachers, no results.