There are countries that place a higher premium on education than we do
Stabroek News
February 15, 2002

Dear Editor,

Sad though it is to witness the outward procession of the nation's teachers to North America, Southern Africa and elsewhere, the description of the phenomenon as "pirating" [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] by Mr Hydar Ally the permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education exposes a severely limited understanding of its nature.

Equally outrageous is the thinly veiled ridicule of teachers who have chosen to migrate by Hans T. Machielse "Protest should be lodged against US recruiters of teachers"(1.2.2002).

I will address Mr Ally's "piracy" assertion first. I begin by suggesting for Mr Ally's consideration that the term "piracy" implies illicit appropriation which cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be applied to the process that attends the exodus of the nation's teachers. The simple truth is that the conditions that have given rise to the exodus are being created here in Guyana. In a nutshell, there are other countries that are placing a higher premium on education than is the case in Guyana. They are prepared to invest in our teachers. We, apparently, are not. These, apparently, are not realities that Mr Ally is prepared to confront.

The major problem with Mr Ally's "piracy" argument is that it is premised on the assumption that the outward movement of Guyana's teachers is a function of a "pull" effect originating in the United States and deliberately designed to hurt Guyana. He neglects to consider the "push" effect resulting from the protracted neglect of the welfare of our teachers by the state.

No group of professionals has demonstrated a greater love of country and a more fervent dedication to their jobs. Indeed, as a nation, we never seem to tire lauding the contribution that our teachers have made to national development over the years. While other categories of professionals have abandoned low paying jobs and sought more lucrative positions, teachers have in the main "stuck it out," seemingly content with the satisfaction they derive from moulding minds and laying an intellectual foundation for the future of the country.

Even in the most trying of social and economic times our teachers have managed to produce students who compare favourably with those produced by the most sophisticated education systems in the world. And yet, Mr Ally, their employers have undervalued that contribution by neglecting to provide a level of pay that serves as an incentive and helps them to live decent lives.

According to Mr Ally, "salaries have to be addressed in the context of what the national economy can afford". The available evidence suggests that that is pure bureaucratic claptrap. Does Mr Ally not think that teachers have witnessed the providing of "cushy" jobs at phenomenal salaries for so called consultants, many of whom owe no allegiance to anything apart from their bank balances and have little by way of academic qualifications beyond "party cards".

Mr Ally contends that a teacher just out of training college receives a salary of "nearly $40,000 per month", which, he says "is more than what a university graduate would earn on entering the public service". What, exactly, is the point of this comparison? Is Mr Ally suggesting that $40,000 is an adequate salary? Is he pointing to the equally low level of pay received by graduate public servants?

I turn now to Mr Machielse whose letters suggest that he is out of touch with the realities of Guyana and with the realities of human nature. It is, Mr Machielse, a gross insult to suggest that Guyanese who have chosen to remain in Guyana and work for its development are mere victims of what you describe as a "left over" culture. Thousands of us are here because we want to be here and we are certainly not "dreaming of joining their (our) overseas friends and relatives one day and have become indifferent about the standards and conditions here". Teachers, perhaps more than any other professional group in Guyana, have an intimate understanding of those standards and conditions.

Perhaps the real limitation in your offering, Mr Machielse, is that you came to Guyana five years ago and do not appreciate the poin of view of Mr John Singh's sister. Frankly, I doubt that the dear lady actually craves a Prado. I suggest that she would probably have been quite content with a simple family home and family car, which, surely, ought not to be beyond the expectations of someone who has given twenty two years of her life to the teaching profession.

There are a few things about the Guyana society that ought to be explained to Mr Machielse. First, Guyanese professionals have long learnt to tailor their expectations to fit national circumstance. Secondly, Guyanese professionals are unlikely, any longer, to be taken in by morally high sounding arguments about dedication and patriotism in a society that has become corrupt to the core and where various forms of dishonesty and skullduggery provide an infinitely better guarantee of a good life than the noble profession of teaching.

Believe me, Mr Machielse, money can go a long way towards making a decent life. There is nothing decent about a teacher who is not always able to afford a bus fare to get to work. There is nothing decent about a teacher who cannot offer his or her children three decent meals every day; there is nothing decent about a teacher who cannot afford to pay his of her rent; there is nothing decent about a teacher who must tutor the children of the middle and upper class (economic class, that is) who sport more pocket money in one week than that teacher earns in a month. This, and more, is what our teachers have endured.

Rather, than rail against the United States in the fashion of the Cold War anti imperialist agitator or advocate protests against recruiters which, in themselves, will accomplish nothing, it would be far more worthwhile if the truth about teachers migration were to be acknowledged and immediate measures taken to stem the tide.

Yours faithfully

Lance Sinclair