Fifty-five Editorial
Stabroek News
June 25, 2004

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It is totally inexplicable that in a country like this, where there is a severe shortage of both qualified and experienced teachers, the authorities can compulsorily retire at the age of 55 a pioneering educator who has devoted his life to hinterland schools. In our Tuesday edition we reported on the case of Mr Victor Ferreira of Santa Rosa, Region One, who has reached the offending age and has been duly retired by the regional authorities. He has so far failed in his attempts to get himself re-hired.

We reported that initially he had been told that he could be re-hired if there was no subject teacher to replace him (he taught Music and Literature at Santa Rosa Secondary School), and also that he had understood from the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) that for this to happen, the commission would first have to have a recommendation from the Regional Education Officer (REdO). Mr Ferreira told this newspaper that his daughter had approached this official on his behalf, and had been informed that he could not make such a recommendation because of the TSC's policy of re-employment. If nothing else, on the face of it this sounds as if Mr Ferreira is being taken for a ride on the usual bureaucratic whirligig, for which Guyanese officialdom has become renowned.

Be that as it may, there are two issues to be concerned about in this instance. The first is the matter of the general retirement age in the public service which was fixed in the days when the life expectancy was shorter and the quality of life poorer in health terms than it is today; and the second is why the teacher in question is not being rehired, the official retirement age notwithstanding.

We have written before in these columns about the requirement for people to retire prematurely in circumstances not just where there is a shortage of skills, but where the population is inexorably greying - albeit not to the degree which obtains in Europe. The National Insurance Scheme is already feeling the effects of this, and in the years ahead it will come under even greater strain, perhaps jeopardising its capacity to pay benefits at the current rates. Given the levels of poverty in the nation, one cannot think why the state would want to compulsorily retire any active, mentally alert person who has worked well in the past, and is still willing to work; it makes no economic, developmental or sociological sense.

In the case of the teaching profession in particular, we reported during the course of the story on Mr Ferreira that the TSC was currently laying off a number of retired, re-hired teachers, to give way to persons desirous of entering the profession, and in order to promote some teachers. We reported Chairman Richard Mangar as saying that there was a long list of applicants who had acquired five and more subjects at the CSEC examinations, as well as graduates of the University of Guyana who were seeking employment in the teaching profession. As a consequence, therefore, retired teachers were being re-hired on a case-by-case basis.

Well exactly why this astonishing news is not being blared from the housetops is a mystery. Are we to understand that the education sector is all of a sudden so blessed with legions of willing university graduates - not forgetting the CSEC applicants with five or more subjects, of course - that we can really afford to wantonly lay off qualified and experienced retirees in order to make room for all the newcomers in the system? At the very least we should not be complaining about the New York Board of Education coming down here to recruit teachers, because the profession is clearly overcrowded and they are doing us a favour.

In the light of this revelation, one perhaps can even understand the REdO's apparent hesitation in recommending to the TSC that Mr Ferreira be re-employed; it is possible that the message he would have extracted from the commission's comments is that there is a veritable crowd of would-be teachers waving their degrees and CSEC certificates outside the TSC gates, in the hope of being dispatched to Santa Rosa to teach Music and Literature.

Let us get real, as they say. CSEC certificate holders should not be employed in the school system, unless there really is no one more qualified and/or capable to fill the vacancies. Our classrooms are not there primarily to provide work for the unemployed in the society; they are there so our children can be educated, and we want the best possible teachers available - of whatever age - to educate them. If the best possible teacher in a particular instance is a fit 75-year-old, then so be it; he/she is the one who should be in front of a class, and not an inexperienced 17-year-old with five CSECs. The truth of the matter is, however, that there are probably enough vacancies around in the schools to give work both to retirees and a good few CSEC certificate-holders, all without prejudice to the UG graduates who want to go into the profession as well.

What can be said with some confidence is that the post from which Mr Ferreira has been obliged to retire in Santa Rosa Secondary will not be filled in a hurry by anyone else of similar quality. It should be added too, that even if someone else were to be found, Mr Ferreira is a person any education authority would want to keep in the system in any case. The REdO of Region One, therefore, should hesitate no longer, and with some celerity send a recommendation for Mr Ferreira's re-employment to the TSC. It will then be up to them what they do with it.

And finally, it might be noted as an aside that the compulsory retirement rule in the public arena does not apply to the politicians for some unfathomable reason. We have had two septuagenarian presidents in this nation so far, but nobody in authority has yet seen fit to explain to us why you are allowed to run a country after the age of seventy, but you cannot teach Literature and Music in a hinterland school after you turn fifty-five.