A case for teaching and learning

Guyana Chronicle
May 9, 2003

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IN HIS March 28, 2003 Budget presentation speech, Finance Minister Saisnarine Kowlessar deferred allocating any specific amount of money to teachers to the conclusion of negotiations between the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) and the Ministry of Education.

It appears that the Minister assumed that the two sides would address the issue in a spirit of camaraderie and with a sense of purpose.

Sadly, that hasn’t been the case.

Even before the GTU had exhausted the traditional avenues of collective bargaining, it called a teachers’ strike, leaving students preparing for various examinations in a vortex of uncertainty.

The GTU has stressed that the education of children isn’t its responsibility and thus saluted the teachers, who turned out at its marches as doing the Union “proud”.

But for all its resentment of the position adopted by the Minister of education in the bargaining process, the GTU insists that its demands are reasonable: it has reduced its demand from 60 per cent to a 15 per cent across-the-board pay increase for teachers, and it believes it is only fair that the incomes of low-salaried teachers should be taken above the national minimum wage.

Cabinet’s offer of between $40M and $60M is therefore noteworthy. So also will be Government’s overall proposals when Education Minister Dr. Henry Jeffrey meets with reporters today.

Though opposing sides agree on the virtue of wage/salary increases for workers in any setting, negotiating a mutually satisfactory employer-employee arrangement is more often than not fraught with difficulties.

For a government having to prudently manage an economy struggling against the odds, or a company operating in an environment that is all but business-friendly, agreeing to runaway operational costs - of which salaries account for the greatest portion - isn’t the best of options.

However the GTU and the Education Ministry resolve their differences, some observers say, the closure of this issue won’t detract from at least two major questions that the dispute has raised. One, how is teacher agitation for more pay related to education delivery? And, two, will the act of giving teachers as much as they’re asking for automatically increase the quality of education delivery in Guyana?

We are as eager as everyone else to see the disputants amicably resolve the teacher pay dispute.

We subscribe to the principle of industrial action, but we’re equally supportive of parents demanding that the GTU adopt a more civil approach to collective bargaining - an approach that doesn’t keep students at home indefinitely, and one that doesn’t depict our teachers perpetuating bad behaviour. That is, publicly demonstrating indiscipline and disrespect for lawful authority.

Our notion of teaching is that it is the act of helping someone to learn. A teacher’s job is to stimulate and direct his or her students in attaining major learning objectives for each course of subject taught.

In all of this, service to society is the school’s principal function or primary task, as society is best served by the school preparing the young for adult living.

The behaviour that teachers displayed during their march/rallies all but epitomises the notion that many were employed only because they were available, not because they were competent.

Our students - the young people of Guyana - are losing more than anyone else not only from the absence of teachers from the classroom, but also from the lack of teacher competence in the classroom.

We hope that in addition to bargaining for more pay for teachers, the GTU will appreciate the importance of teaching and learning and, along with the Ministry of Education, encourage their members to see teaching as having more worth than the lure of dollars and cents.

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