Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid (left) expressing concerns about the departure of teachers in critical subject areas from the secondary school system. He was speaking at a press conference held at the education ministry at Heroes Circle yesterday. Also participating are state minister in the education ministry, Floyd Green (centre) and Permanent Secretary Dr Maurice Smith. (Photo: Michael Gordon)
The education ministry has confirmed that a number of teachers in the critical subject area of math are taking up jobs overseas and will not be returning to the secondary school system in the upcoming academic year. However, the ministry said it is uncertain at this point exactly how many teachers are quitting. Speaking at a press conference at the ministry’s head office at Heroes Circle yesterday, portfolio minister Senator Ruel Reid disclosed that out of an overall total of 1,784 high school math teachers, only 207 are fully qualified to teach up to Grade 11. Last year, 111 of those left, leaving 96 fully qualified math teachers in the system. “It is believed many took up teaching opportunities overseas. Undoubtedly, this would have affected the preparation of a number of students. In addition, this loss would have a significant impact on the ability of schools to maintain the standards of teaching and learning established particularly over the past four years,” Reid told journalists. He was speaking against the background of the results of the 2016 Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) examinations, which show a 14.3 per cent decline in math grades over last year. Senator Reid said the ministry could not yet confirm how many math and science teachers are leaving, because oftentimes they do not notify the schools until the last minute. “By the end of October we will have a general picture of what is taking place, because as we speak, there are movements taking place (and) some schools are not even aware yet whether teachers are not returning,” he said. “In my experience, unfortunately they do not tell you whether they are leaving or not, and even if you ask, the answer may not necessarily be accurate, so it’s a challenge. You’re really not going to know until school resumes.” Under the Education Act a teacher may terminate their employment without notice if there is a written agreement between the teacher and the school board. Unilateral termination without the consent of the board can attract a charge of professional misconduct. It is not clear, however, how this penalty could be applied in the case of a teacher who has migrated. Senator Reid noted that at one point recruitment for overseas jobs was done through the Government, but teachers are now being recruited privately through various media. “That is a problem. The recruitment is not going through the protocols that we have established,” he said. At the same time, the education minister stressed that the Government is putting measures in place to plug whatever gaps may be left in the system, including deploying an additional 50 mathematics coaches across the island. One prominent traditional high school in Kingston has confirmed that it has lost three math and science teachers going into the 2016 academic year. Kingston College Principal Dave Myrie referred to the issue as the “second wave” of teacher migration, in a Jamaica Observer interview. “They saw it as a good opportunity, and I can understand people looking at opportunities and wanting to make a better life for themselves. The entire family is moving in one of the cases. I wouldn’t say it’s going to affect us because they advised from early that the possibility exists (so) we advertised fairly early. We also had other options already looking at that we could explore, once we had confirmation of the move,” he explained. The boys’ school principal stressed however that replacing math and science teachers is usually a hard task. “If you’re losing enough, it means that there is going to be a shortage at some point, and you lose experience. You don’t want to be losing experienced persons,” Myrie stated. The Observer also learnt that another prominent Kingston school will see six teachers taking up jobs overseas in September, some of them heads of departments. However, the principal of that school could not be contacted for comment. Meanwhile, Ardenne High Principal Nadine Molloy insists that incentives must be put on the table if the country wants to keep its qualified teachers. “We have not been able to get to the place where we can pay people. Successive governments have failed to look at incentivising those areas that we need to retrain teachers in…we may have to put some incentive programmes in place that will keep teachers in the system for some time,” she said. “We can train persons, we just need to look at where we have the gaps and work with the principals and teachers to fill the gaps. Let’s quickly get to the drawing board and see how we can better equip those persons who are left behind to take up the slack,” Molloy added.
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