New York education board recruiting Guyanese teachers By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
January 17, 2002

The New York City Board of Education (NYCBOE) has begun its local recruitment drive and will host an information seminar for possible recruits at Le Meridien Pegasus on Friday evening.

Reacting to this, Education Minister Dr Henry Jeffrey told Stabroek News yesterday that it would put greater pressure on the Ministry of Education. He said he felt that regional ministers of education and their governments might have to tackle the issue collectively.

He said it was quite clear that it would be difficult to stop teachers from migrating but the ministry would have to make better use of the resources at its disposal. The country is already suffering a shortage of trained and experienced teachers.

Last year the NYCBOE recruitment focused on Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago with over 600 teachers being recruited from the region. Jamaica alone accounted for 58% of those recruited. This year it has extended its drive to include Guyana and Grenada. During the last recruitment drive Guyana had not been a recruitment site, but a number of Guyanese teachers had gotten wind of the exercise and had travelled to Trinidad where they were interviewed and accepted.

Because of the impact the recruitment had on the Jamaican education system, Jamaican Education Minister Burchell Whiteman had suggested that a city like New York could enter into an arrangement with Jamaica for training additional teachers to help satisfy its teaching needs. Additionally, he had suggested that Jamaica had wanted to place on the agenda of the upcoming Commonwealth Summit, the possibility of a compensatory mechanism for developing countries like Jamaica from where skilled people were recruited in substantial numbers by rich nations.

As to how the issue should be tackled, Dr Jeffrey suggested that the CARICOM education ministers deal with it at the regional level. He noted that already the richer nations, through their multilateral agencies, were providing funding for local educational programmes. "Half of the monies we receive," he said, "are coming from them.

"We will have to discuss at the CARICOM level to try and perhaps come up with some programme of action that may well lead us to have discourses, whether it is on compensation or it is on an attempt to train teachers for export, with those countries. It is an issue regional ministers of education and regional governments may have to tackle collectively."

Like Whiteman, he said that there was nothing governments could do to stop the migration of teachers or other skilled professionals at this point in time.

Last week President of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU), Bertram Hamilton, had said that at the Executive Council Meeting of the Caribbean Union of Teachers meeting in Montserrat in December, members agreed that the only way to deal with the issue was to improve working conditions and other benefits for teachers.

He had noted that when teachers were recruited by the USA and the United Kingdom from the Bahamas, Jamaica and other Caribbean territories, they created a vacuum to which Guyana in particular was vulnerable. Poor salaries and working conditions in Guyana and the lure of better emoluments saw teachers leaving to fill vacancies in the Caribbean and further afield including Botswana in Africa. He noted that recruiters from the England might also be hiring teachers from Guyana this year. In addition, the recruitment for teachers to Botswana is scheduled for March.

It is estimated that over the next six years, the USA alone will need to recruit some 2.6 million teachers. The recruiters are looking to the Caribbean because of the educational needs in the public system of the immigrant population in those countries.

Based on reports coming out of Jamaica a number of the teachers who had taken up the two-year US contract had returned because they had not received what was expected, including housing and salaries.

GTU Administrator/Field Officer and a former president, Lance Baptiste, told Stabroek News that the union was a partner in the delivery of education in Guyana. As a partner, he said "we would not like to see our teachers leaving Guyana for anywhere else but we have to face the reality." The union he said "cannot promise them anything other than what the Ministry of Education is giving them right now. We have been behind the ministry to look after house lots for teachers and duty-free allowances for motor vehicles."

The GTU, Baptiste said, had been told by most of the teachers who were planning to apply that they would love to remain in Guyana but the main reason for trying to gain employment elsewhere was that they "want to be in a position to live comfortably in a proper home and to be able to purchase a vehicle to move around with their family." These are things they would not be able to do on their present salary.

He said the teachers felt that if they could be given house lots and concessions from the bank and hardware stores they would be able to afford a house and the necessaries.

The GTU, he said has been behind the education and finance ministries as well as the Ministry of Housing to see what assistance they could give to teachers who really do not want to leave Guyana.

The NYCBOE advertisement which is currently running in the state-owned Guyana Chronicle says: "Life is about Choices... choose to teach in the New York City Public Schools." It says that teaching in a New York city school makes provision for salary incentives, professional development, excellent benefits package, assistance in finding housing and New York City, itself. It says that many job opportunities exist in Mathematics, Science and Special Education.