Teacher migration not restricted to Guyana
-- CARICOM Assistant Secretary General
Guyana Chronicle
April 3, 2002

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ASSISTANT Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Mr. Byron Blake yesterday noted that migration is affecting not only the teaching but other professions and the problem is not restricted to Guyana.

He said the entire region is affected, noting that migration is not unusual and did not start recently. It is an old problem, but while in the past it was done individually, a recent disturbing development has been the organised recruitment by governments from developed and other developing countries, he said.

He said that in his home country of Jamaica, 1,000 teachers are trained annually but on an average 500 migrate every year.

Blake was speaking at a conference on `Migration and how it affects the female teachers in Guyana' hosted by the Women's Advisory Committee (WAC) of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) at the GTU Hall in Georgetown.

He said the more experienced teachers with special skills are recruited and a significant number are the younger ones. This situation is leading to a fall in education standards, he said.

Touching on the economic implications of migration, Blake said the human resource is the key to economic advancement and that is what the region is being drained of. In addition, other sections of the society are deprived of the use of the skills of teachers, he said.

Migration also puts a financial strain on economies because huge sums are invested in teacher training programmes, he noted.

Citing the example of India, Blake said "the third border initiative" could be one of the solutions to teacher migration in the region. He explained that India, which has a very stable situation as regards its scientists, has adopted a system in which scientists are free to migrate for about three years and then return to their jobs without any loss of benefits or status.

GTU General Secretary, Mr. Lance Baptiste told the Chronicle that the migration of teachers "did not start now." "It started many years ago during the previous government, when a lot of our teachers migrated to Caribbean countries", he said.

He said the union, recognising the escalating problem, urged the Ministry of Education to implement measures to rectify the situation. Among the proposals the GTU put forward were the provision of low cost housing, favourable loan facilities at the banks, duty free concessions for cars and discount facilities at business enterprises.

With respect to the latter, Baptiste said the union on its own has been able to get such a facility at a few businesses enterprises, among them the Laparkan Group of Companies and Nigel's Supermarket. He said there has so far not been a positive response from the ministry on the proposals.

Baptiste declared that teachers need to live with dignity and have a comfortable living standard so that they feel appreciated and wanted. Most of the teachers do not really want to leave but they take a chance because they see others go and come back in two or three years and are able to buy a house and or a car and live a comfortable life, he said.

This is "something which most teachers after thirty or more years in the profession cannot afford," Baptiste added.

In response to the position of paying salaries in accordance with what the national economy can afford, Baptiste said when the teachers go to a business place to buy that factor is not taken into consideration. "They have to pay the same prices as everybody else."

University of Guyana Lecturer, Ms. Audrey Rodrigues told delegates that the migration of teachers was putting a great strain on human resources within the education system resulting in stress and a decline in morale. However, she exhorted the female teachers not to lament on the problem but to collectively exert their power and influence to find solutions.

Rodrigues urged delegates to organise themselves to improve their strategic needs, identifying lobbying, advocacy, negotiations and networking as some of the skills which should be improved in agitating for better remuneration and working conditions.

"Agitating can be done in a dignified way that matches the profession," she said and advised that effective research on migration should be done so that authentic evidence can be obtained which will strengthen the GTU's bargaining position.

She also urged the conference to focus on the special needs of women, especially in relation to the improvement of physical facilities for females at schools.

Women must not see themselves as a separate entity within the GTU, but rather as "equal partners and architects" of the activities of the union, she said, bemoaning the fact that while about 68 per cent of teachers are women, only a few are represented on the GTU executive. (CHAMANLALL NAIPAUL)