Teachers salaries must be considered in the context of the national economy
Stabroek News
March 31, 2002

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Dear Editor,

I had prepared a response to Mr Roger Moore's letter captioned "Teachers leave for better conditions" (12/2/02), as he missed the point of my letter captioned "Protest should be lodged against US recruiters of teachers" (10/2/02), when along comes Mr Lance Sinclair fretting, as a teacher himself, (as it appears from his letter, captioned "There are countries that place a higher premium on education than we do" (15/2/02) [ please note: links provided by LOSP web site ]. Let me explain, as both gentlemen try to vent their frustration, as neither understood my letter.

Firstly, I do not apologise as an "outsider" to this country, for the active involvement I have endeavoured to channel into creative projects. Having experienced five years of my life, mostly in Guyana and being married to a Guyanese, I'm no longer a casual observer. I do not wish to patronize, however I'm not ignorant of better conditions. I do not malign teachers, as Mr Moore suggests, one of my own daughters is a high school teacher with a masters degree in education from the University of New South Wales, Australia. I am intimately familiar with the dedication of some teachers, (definitely not all!), and I subscribe to what Mr Sinclair wrote that they (the teachers) derive satisfaction from moulding minds and laying an intellectual foundation for the future of the country."

Secondly, both gentlemen reacted as if teachers are victims in this "left-over" society of a mere 720,000 persons (more than one million Guyanese have scrambled to find a cold wintry place elsewhere abroad, hence the term "left over"). The teacher victims earning $40,000 per month are crying, according to Mr Sinclair, because "there is nothing decent about not always being able to afford a bus fare" - "provide their children three decent meals every day" - or can't afford to pay their rent", and to cause insult to injury, according to Mr Sinclair, there are even some students "who have more pocket money in a week than the teacher earns in one month". Mr Sinclair, did you know that Bill Gates of Microsoft earns US$500 - per second, 24 hours a day? I'd wonder how the teacher of his kids feel!

Thirdly: whilst Mr Sinclair suggests that I'm "out of touch with the realities of Guyana," he also considers it " a gross insult to suggest that Guyanese who have chosen to remain in Guyana and work for its development, (what development after more than 35 years of independence?) are mere victims of (what I suggested), a "left-over" culture.

Well Mr Sinclair, I can understand your frustration, but isn't there a contradiction when you suggest in the one breath, that the teachers have "demonstrated a great love of country," (moulding minds and laying an intellectual foundation for the future of the country), but also describe it as "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!"

Is that how you analyse the "end product" after more than 35 years of "moulding minds and laying this foundation for the future of this country".

The reality in Guyana according to the Report "Poverty and the 1999 Guyana survey of living conditions" (SN 1/10/2000) is: "One in three Guyanese live in absolute poverty". The absolute poverty line was drawn at a monthly per capita consumption of $7,639 and just over half of all income earners earn less than $7,500 per month! It doesn't mention how many pensioners there are but we know they have to make do on $1728. According to the same survey, of which economist professor Clive Thomas authored the analysis, Guyana compares poorly with sister Caricom countries, with human development also the lowest in the region.

The survey also states that 65% of the population is under 14 years of age, 470,000 children! That leaves a population of 250,000 over the age of 14.

Assuming that half of the 250,000, excluding children to 18 years of age, women at home and pensioners, say 125,000 are in employment, (and we can see there is a high unemployment rate), then there are according to this survey 62,500 working men and women earning less than $7,500 per month!

In other words, you belong to the elite of income earners in this country with $40,000 per month, Mr Sinclair, if you believe that money can go a long way towards making a decent life.

But what is your decent life as a teacher, when you seem to begrudge those with money.I suggested that decent people make a decent life" and as a teacher you've had more than 35 years to mould minds and lay an intellectual foundation for the future of this country.

Incidentally we are paying the primary school teacher for our son $300 per week for extra common entrance lessons. He is in a class of 41. Is that an extra $49,200 (without tax?) to her monthly salary?

If the figures and percentages of the survey are to be believed or accepted, then the teachers in this country have the moral responsibility of setting out to do what is required to get a decent life. Give 65% of our population, all the children under 14 years of age, a decent education.

Fourthly, I am, like you gentlemen, critical of the system. However, as Mr Hydar Ally suggests, "salaries have to be addressed in the context of what the national economy can afford". He is right.

That being the case, I suggested that the teachers take their complaint to the United Nations. If you consider that the government doesn't put enough premium on education, don't complain amongst yourselves, complain and protest directly at the world forum.

A delegation of teacher representatives could travel to New York and make the plight of students and teachers known to the world.

It would be a third world "first", to seek the assistance of the rich nations and would put Guyana on the world map. Debt relief, financial aid by the rich nations, the lack of investment due to mismanagement by third world governments, are all negative factors in this seemingly impossible task to ever get out of third world status. Organise your protest well. Be prepared to appear on US television to plead your case.

For us to grow properly, we as a coury need proper education - the government can't afford it - how much would it take to educate 470,000 children and pay the teachers a fair salary - wouldn't the investment we're seeking ultimately become a benefit and investment for the rich nations as well? You'd be surprised at the reception you may get. But you have to be well prepared.

In some quarters it is argued that terrorism finds its seeds in poverty and with "under privileged people". You have so many arguments in the eyes of a decent world to build a strong case for Guyana.

Yours faithfully,

Hans Th. Machielse