Teachers body begs measures to curb exodus By Abigail Kippins-Butler
Guyana Chronicle
February 9, 2002

`We are pleading with those responsible to take a second hard look at the situation and try to make the teachers more comfortable...' - Avril Crawford, GTU Women's Advisory Council

THE Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) Women's Advisory Council is reiterating calls for the relevant authorities to put measures in place to curb the exodus of teachers from the education system and the country.

At a news conference Thursday at the GTU hall, Woolford Avenue, Georgetown, Council representatives outlined the contributions made by teachers, especially females, and the effects their departures are having on the education system.

Secretary of the Council, Ms. Gem Rohlehr said teachers are leaving Guyana for teaching jobs in other countries and that the replacements are not sufficient to compensate for those who left.

"Frankly, the exodus of teachers should be attended to immediately...", she stated.

Rohlehr said it is known that money is the push factor and that efforts should be made by the Government to make teachers more comfortable.

The economic pressures facing teachers are of grave concern to members of the Council and according to Ms. Jackilin Butcher, Assistant Secretary Treasurer, the tremendous economic pressures facing teachers are having social consequences. She said that in addition to their roles as teachers, many of them are the main providers for their families and find it difficult to provide for their homes.

And, she said, "...the female teachers have to be like other professionals with the pressures of expectations from their communities. They are expected to be appropriately dressed and to carry themselves with dignity even though they often lack the means to maintain these standards."

According to Butcher, the stress of teaching as well as frustrations of the education system affect the social life of female teachers, who she said, are not only professional workers, but wives, mothers and daughters and are expected to bear the burdens of domestic life.

She pointed out that when female teachers are stressed and demotivated, the entire community suffers since they cannot play the nurturing and supporting role in their families and communities.

"Female teachers are unable to enjoy the quality of life that would make their lives outside of the job enjoyable and worthwhile. They are unable to enjoy the kind of entertainment, enrichment, and cultural amenities that people of their professional standard should enjoy...", she stated.

Butcher said they need housing, improved working conditions, better remuneration packages, a medical scheme from the Government, risk and other allowances, among other things.

She said current salaries could not commensurate with the high cost of living.
The Council is calling on the Government to provide a medical scheme since the CLICO medical card only allows for teachers to produce the card for treatment at private hospitals with the money later being deducted from their salaries.

Commenting on how the GTU feels about the teacher migration and its effects on the system, Ms. Avril Crawford, President of the Council, said it is evident that most of the trained and experienced teachers are leaving the profession and that the gap is widening to the detriment of the education system.

"...it seems as though the matter is being treated very lightly. There is an apparent failure to accept the fact that our teachers are migrating because they are looking for better remuneration packages, better working conditions and so on. Teachers are human beings.

"When we look into our classrooms, most of our teachers are females and they have to make the meagre salary meet to satisfy the needs of their homes", she said.

Noting the difficulty teachers face, Crawford added, "we are concerned that those in charge are not paying attention to our needs and our cries are going unheard and we need for someone out there to understand that teachers need better working conditions, homes, and to be able to enjoy social lives. Teachers are the producers of the most important producers in the world..."

According to her, the financial strain on teachers is glaring and is affecting their performance in the classroom.

"We are pleading with those responsible to take a second hard look at the situation and try to make the teachers more comfortable...If systems are not put in place, if somebody cannot come to the realisation that our teachers are leaving and will continue to leave, we will continue to be in this dilemma", she stated.

Meanwhile, the Council has planned its programme of activities for the year and focus is being placed on professional development.

Crawford said they will participate in seminars and workshops which will entail leadership skills, conflict resolution, health and safety, stress management and women and retirement.

The other area she said they plan to look at is trade union education in which they will examine health and safety in the workplace in relation to trade union laws, rights and responsibilities of the teacher, collective bargaining, women and leadership, and the role of female teachers in the union.

They will also look at skills training in the line of craft, cake decoration, dressmaking, cosmetology and some aspects of financial management, she said.

In terms of social activities, focus will be placed on a GTU fashion pageant to culminate in October and games, sporting and charitable activities that will stretch for a two-year period.