Continuing emigration of teachers is a severe problem
Stabroek News
January 24, 2002

Dear Editor,

The teacher migration phenomenon is still not being recognised as important enough by the authorities. It now appears that the governments of Botswana, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and others seem to have as part of their yearly education programme the recruitment of Guyanese teachers. This has probably led to the USA authorities being encouraged to do the same. The president of the Guyana Teachers Union said, on a regular newscast that teachers are leaving because of low salaries and poor working conditions. This is clearly true but this gentleman and his team agreed to an increase in salary of 6 and 9 per cent for the two main categories of teachers.

Are teachers not patriotic? Are they only concerned with leaving and not giving back anything to the system? Talking to many of them it is clear that the major push factors are the two indicated above coupled with the fact that the authorities pay them scant respect and that they are not given the kind of recognition they deserve for the contribution they make to the society, while the most significant pull factors for them are the attractive and livable salary and approved conditions of work.

What is even more disappointing is to hear a senior government functionary state, when asked about the effects of teachers leaving, that CPCE is producing a number of trained teachers yearly so those leaving will be replaced by those graduating from Cyril Potter College.

If the government is concerned about the future of this country it would carefully examine the plight of its teachers and make a conscious effort to adequately address those issues identified above. It is a known fact that more than 86% of teachers live in rented houses where the monthly rent though reasonable, is more than three quarters of their salary.

As a result teachers, in an effort to morally and legitimately supplement their grossly inadequate monthly salary, take pains to walk with snacks to sell and impinge on their family time and life by remaining after school in the afternoons and some week ends to teach extra lessons for which students were asked to pay a small fee, in many cases $200.00 (two hundred dollars). Did they like or enjoy doing this? Of course not, as hinted by many of them it was as a result of the grim reality of poverty and the desire to meet basic needs that many of them were involved in these activities. However, today these activities are curbed due to sanctions imposed by the ministry against teachers and as is stated in one of the circulars concerning extra lessons, teachers are only expected to hold lessons in the school building if the lesson is done for free. How absurd is this condition, we all know that people work overtime or do extra chores in order that they gain some personal benefit, apart from having the other party benefit equally.

The main cause of teacher migration is the poor salary. The ultimate answer is to adequately improve the salary so that teachers can at least enjoy a reasonable standard of living. Government must find some way of doing this.

It was heart breaking to see hundreds of qualified Guyanese teachers cramped into the Essequibo Room of the Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel on the evening of Friday January 19, 2002, all focused on their prospects of getting an opportunity to teach in the USA. Those who are certain of being accepted in any teaching system are qualified teachers with the requisite professional qualification and experience, the people who form the very core of the education system. The absence of these middle managers can result in a total collapse in the education system here, since there will be no senior to give adequate guidance and advice to those teachers fresh from CPCE.

As I see it, while the government continues to allocate huge sums in the budget to build schools without addressing the teacher issue, the system is destined to collapse if the draining of teachers continues. With the absence of experienced teachers, the people responsible for nurturing and training of our young people, we may be left with a labour force too ill prepared to make any positive contribution to the development of this country.

I urge the government to view this upsurge in teacher migration as a serious problem and to quickly put systems in place to improve the lot of teachers. I think this situation needs the urgent attention of His Excellency the President, Mr Jagdeo, for Guyana now more than ever before needs its trained professionals such as teachers.

Yours faithfully,

Lurlene Nestor MP

National Secretary GYSM