Teacher migration Editorial
Stabroek News
January 18, 2002

So the recruiters are here again. This time they come from the New York City Board of Education, but soon enough the British and Botswanans will follow them. It is not good news for an already beleaguered education system, but as the Minister of Education has acknowledged, there is nothing the government can do to actively prevent the migration of teachers, or, for that matter, any other professionals. And this is not, most likely, a one-off recruitment drive, because the United States is estimated to require 2.6 million more teachers over the next six years. As far as the UK is concerned, the shortage of teachers there has already been well publicised.

The attraction of the Caribbean as a recruitment pool for the anglophone metropoles is only too obvious: apart from the language, there is the inheritance of an English education system (more or less attenuated depending on the country), comparable teaching certification, and the composition of the immigrant populations of the inner cities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

According to a report in yesterday's edition, the New York Board came to the Caribbean last year, but they focused on Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. By the time they had finished their interviews, six hundred teachers from the region had been recruited.

It is the regional nature of the problem which attracted the attention of Minister Henry Jeffrey, who felt that it should be tackled at that level. "We will have to discuss at the Caricom level," he said, "to try and perhaps come up with some programme of action that may well lead us to have discourses, whether... on compensation or... [in] an attempt to train people for export, with those countries."

While a regional approach recommends itself, it will be some time before such initiatives bear fruit. In the meantime, what is the country to do? The position of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) on the issue has not changed over the years; it has said consistently that salaries and conditions are at the root of the problem. Administrator and former president of the union, Lance Baptiste, said to Stabroek News that the GTU had been told by most of the teachers who were planning to apply to the New York Board, that they would love to remain in Guyana but that the main reason for looking for 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."

Over the nine years it has been in office the Government has been very slothful in addressing the problem of the teacher deficit. The previous minister, of course, refused to acknowledge for a long time that wages and conditions were at the bottom of the migration problem, and as such, therefore, it was impossible to deal with it in a realistic way. There is, perhaps, another reason too why the Ministry of Education has been so laggard. The impression has been given for several years now that the senior officials feel that the teacher training programme will make good any losses in the system. Unfortunately, it is a mistaken view.

In the first place, the young people entering the training colleges nowadays do not have the solid educational foundation that their predecessors had, and that is a difficult thing to remedy at the teacher training level; in the second, those who are of a sufficient standard will simply be recruited like the others; and in the third, as President of the GTU Bertram Hamilton has pointed out, the teachers being siphoned off at present constitute the middle management of the school system. They will leave behind them an administrative vacuum, therefore, which the graduates from the training colleges cannot fill. In school administration, as in other professional endeavours, there simply is no substitute for experience.

It is true that the Ministry is now dealing with house lots for teachers, although the Minister himself has been fairly grudging about it in his public expressions. Will the Government and the Ministry of Education not arouse themselves from their torpor and apply some imagination to the problem of the loss of teachers? Will they not sit down with the union to explore various possibilities which would allow the workers in the education system to have a car and a roof over their heads?

Anyone qualified who is still teaching in Guyana's schools, is there because they do not want to leave the country. Surely the Government should regard the retention of the few trained and qualified teachers we have left as an absolute priority. If they don't, they can forget about the PEIP, the SSRP and any other programme they have on stream for improving the educational standard of Guyana's children.