The teaching profession a beacon of hope and inspiration for the nation The teaching profession a beacon of

Dr Garth Anderson

Sunday, August 26, 2018

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An edited version of Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) President Dr Garth Anderson's inauguration address at the JTA's 54th Annual Conference last week at Hilton Rose Hall Beach Resort and Spa in Montego Bay.

As I stand here tonight, I cannot help but reflect on my childhood and my journey leading up to this moment. I grew up in the rural community of Harmons in south Manchester where poverty was rampant and education was not priority. I was not able to attend school every day, but my mother did the best she could with the little she had. I quickly realised that education would be the passport for my family and me to depart the life of poverty which we experienced.

I soaked up every ounce of what I was taught by my teachers, and by the time I reached high school I was even more enthused. It was there that I met and was influenced by the outstanding teacher leader, Mr Winston E Preddie. He was a strong disciplinarian who had no tolerance for sub-par thinking or behaviours. Hence, he instilled in us, the traits of humility, discipline and good values and attitudes.

Added to that, he possessed the most creative pedagogical skills that ignited my passion for learning day after day. Because of that, I began to walk like him, talk like and act like him and so it was inevitable that I became what I am today — a teacher!

In the year 2000, upon entering the profession, I saw it fit to become a member of this dignified body, the Jamaica Teachers' Association. As I progressed from classroom teacher to principal, I met persons from all strata of the education system, who saw in me exemplary leadership qualities, and therefore encouraged me to aspire to the heights of presidency.

And so in February 2017, I accepted the challenge. I did so because I am convinced that this will give me a greater opportunity to directly advance the cause of my colleagues, the wider education sector and to promote teaching as the profession of choice. It is all about working assiduously to get positive results, not for fame but rather giving of myself to the service of the Jamaica Teachers' Association.

As I travelled the island, up the hills and down the valleys, I was educated; I was touched, moved by what I heard and saw, and indeed I got a broader perspective of our educational landscape. I saw teachers working in sub-standard conditions. I saw frustrated students and teachers. I saw students operating in environments far from being conducive to learning. Yet I saw teachers overcoming the varying challenges to touch and transform the lives of those entrusted to their care.

I saw teachers who were more concerned about the welfare of their students rather than themselves. I saw those who were prepared to go the extra mile — all in the name of ensuring their students succeed. I saw teachers being more interested in getting the resources needed to engage their students rather than talking about their own opulence. Our teachers are among the most committed civil servants who see themselves as co-workers with the Great teacher Himself.

So at this moment, it is appropriate for me to pause and thank the Almighty who reminds me in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to give thanks in every circumstance. My sincere gratitude is extended to all of you who gave me your vote of confidence. I commit to work on your behalf, and to lead this noble movement resting on the shoulders of our forefathers who have laid a solid foundation.

Tonight, I graciously accept the honour and privilege to lead, to provide a kind of leadership that will be engaging, forthright and solution-oriented, as we seek to address the many challenges that teachers of Jamaica face in our education system.

Presidential Legacy

As your president, I intend to have my presidency marked by:

• Engagement of members. I will meet you in your work stations, listen to your concerns, and in return do the heavy lifting on your behalf;

• Advancement of the profession. It will be about promoting teaching as the mother of all professions, amplified by a focus on high professional conduct and stewardship, whilst vigorously defending your cause;

• Creation of multiple prospects. It will be characterised by providing opportunities for teachers to advance their professional growth and development.

Like the late Theodore Roosevelt, “much has been given to me, and much will rightfully be expected from me. I have duties to others which I cannot shirk”.

Conference Theme

The theme for this conference year: 'Promoting the teaching Profession: A beacon of Hope and Inspiration for the Nation' is a deliberate attempt at seeking to focus the nation's attention on the fundamental role that education plays in nation-building and economic development. Education and training are embraced as the key drivers of economic competitiveness and the JTA will continue to assert itself as the vanguard of professionalism, equal opportunity and perpetual growth in the education system.

Some of the pressing issues affecting the education system, as we speak, include the National Standards Curriculum, Zoning, Financing education, Students' Performance, Jamaica Teaching Council Bill, Pension Reform, among others.

Teaching is the most pre-eminent of professions in our society. Our development and existence largely depend on how and what the education system produces. We cannot achieve the 5 in 4 or Vision 2030 goals of creating a Jamaica where we can live, work, raise families, do business and, might I add, retire in paradise, without acknowledging, supporting and investing in our teachers and education in general.

So as we lament the social decay in our society, the crime, the violence, the breakdown in values and attitudes at all levels of society, teachers and schools have a critical role to play. We still remain the hope to rescue our society. Equally, we can turn our attention to the successes and celebrate how teachers have inspired and transformed so many of us to become good citizens of our nation.

Maybe the time is now that a serious study should be undertaken to see the contribution of teachers to the gross domestic product of our country. It is therefore important that as a country we pay the respect due to our teachers in words, thoughts and deed and in what we have left undone. We must continue to seek creative ways of promoting the profession by seriously addressing salaries and conditions of work so that the profession will be inviting to the brightest and best minds in our society.

We must continue to provide the necessary support to those of us who have been toiling in the vineyard, certainly not for the money but simply doing it “for the love and not for the likes.” Regardless of the fact that we are committed to our calling, it takes cash to care. Teachers have bills to be paid. We have our children's needs to be taken care of. In a real sense, all we ask is for our employer to create a working environment that is supportive of our professional standing and give us a liveable wage.

Mr minister, when you look at the state of the teaching profession in other parts of the world, for example in Finland — your favourite point of reference — teachers are ranked among the highest paid civil servants and are treated with great respect and awe by politicians and the society at large. So what about us?

Emerging Teacher Institute

As we contemplate the promotion of the teaching profession, I am proposing the development of an emerging teacher institute which will be used as a mechanism to identify teaching talents very early. This institute will see adroit students of grades 10 to 13 being selected to complete college credits in teacher education foundation courses as a means of piquing their interest in teaching as a viable and worthwhile profession. We are hoping that the ministry will give due support to this idea.

National Standards Curriculum (NSC)

As we reflect, let us turn our attention to the National Standards Curriculum (NSC). Let me remind you that the JTA fully supports the concept and philosophy driving the curriculum. We are cognisant of the need for our students to be equipped with the 21st century skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. We operate in a global village and so our students must be prepared with skills that are relevant and portable. Consequently, the best way to achieve this is by adjusting or radically changing the curriculum driving the education system via STEM - STEAM - STREAM. So minister and your team, we applaud you for this initiative.

However, I must hasten to posit that successful school reform cannot be achieved without showing appreciation for and listening to the experts on the ground — our teachers. Minister, as a teacher, you are fully cognisant that if in your Caribbean Studies class your students indicate to you that they have not grasped certain concepts, and you proceed to give a test on these concepts you would be aware of the results even before the students sit the test.

Minister, the implementation of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) element of the National Standards Curriculum is on track to fail. PEP remains a mystery! Teachers, students and parents are still anxious, even after several workshops have been hosted, and the publication of newspaper articles which attempted to allay our fears. Permit me to outline how I arrived at this conclusion:

• The teachers, who are the implementers of the curriculum, have been indicating that they are not fully prepared to do so.

• The principals, who are the chief instructional leaders in their schools, have also made it clear that they are not fully prepared to effectively supervise this new curriculum. One principal outlined to me that she has not fully grasped the four Es much more the four Cs. We must never lose sight that what we are dealing with is a philosophical transformation of the mind and this does not happen overnight.

• Many trainers have demonstrated and expressed their lack of understanding of the curriculum, and as a result, teaching is not standardised across the system and so is its interpretation.

• Too many of our teachers still do not have a hard copy of the curriculum to closely examine and manipulate.

• All teacher educators have not been trained to deliver and prepare student teachers for this new curriculum.

• Confusion and frustration among teachers, parents and students are rife.

• The curriculum is still in draft format.

• How will students and parents, who do not have the educational and financial resources to treat with the demands of the curriculum, be catered for?

• Resources to continue support of the curriculum are still a challenge in some schools.

• The mock tests that went some weeks ago — the famous Fish Tank question — has only served to further frustrate the system, and the test clearly did not cater to the different learning styles and abilities of students.

• Assessment procedures are still a mystery for many teachers, and

• In high schools, teachers and administrators are not clear which students are on Pathway one, two or three.

Minister, the writing is on the wall! Read the signs of the time. Colleagues, let me declare my keen interest in this matter. My son Jaydon is slated to sit the grade six component of the exam next year. How can he and his companions do well when they have not been prepared to think or respond to the requirements of the new exam? I put it to you, let us not rush to implement and squander the great opportunity we now have to transform the education system.

So what is our proposal to remedy this situation?

• We should start at minimum, the implementation of the PEP with the grade three students starting September 2018. We must carefully phase in the change and reduce the shock on the system. In so doing, we will have enough time to assess and adjust accordingly to treat with issues as they arise.

• Consequently the GSAT exam should continue as we grandfather in the new curriculum.

• Empower all lecturers in the teacher training colleges and use the colleges as training centres in collaboration with the Jamaica Teaching Council.

• Training must be better structured and standardised.

Let us not fool ourselves, the training and implementation plan to date has not been effective. One of the ways to promote the teaching profession is to pay respect to the professional competencies and voice of the teachers on matters of this nature that directly affect the manner in which we execute our professional duties. Let's face it, if you forge along with the current implementation plan and failure comes, we all know who will be blamed — teachers!

Zoning of Schools

I now draw your attention to the issue of zoning of schools which is connected to the NSC and more particularly the PEP. We in the JTA fully appreciate the focus of PEP on developing learning profiles for each student and the positive impact this can have if properly used for entry into high school. Depite this, PEP is viewed by many teachers and parents alike as a placement exam and as such, in practical terms, not very different from the GSAT as it would still be reinforcing the two-tier education system we experience — traditional versus non-traditional schools. If you please, the haves and have not schools.

We will still see students crossing parish boarders, travelling miles to reach particular schools. We will still be buttressing the stigma attached to certain schools despite the hard work of teachers and administrators in these schools. his can come to Tan end and I dear say it must come to an end. This can be achieved if we invest more in our non-traditional schools to build their capacities, as well as public confidence, and couple that with a zoning policy which will see students going to schools closer to where they live.

As we think about zoning and the investment that must be made to make this possible, it's a good time to segue into financing all levels of the education system. We are fully aware of the financial challenges facing the country. In fact, we have borne the pain and indeed, made sacrifices to ensure we keep our economy on the right path. We strongly feel that the time is here for us to consider how we spend our education tax.

This tax should be placed in a dedicated fund solely to support education. In fact, when this tax was implemented in 1983, the intention was that it should be used to advance education in our country. This include: resourcing the sector, paying teachers well and providing greater access to higher education.

Minister, it would be remiss of me not to thank you and the team from the ministry for the increased allocation of funds for school operations. I am sure that you will agree that in spite of that significant step, we are not there yet. Access, quality, equity, affordability and accountability are critical factors that must be considered when we are discussing funding in education.

It is clear to all of us that the Government alone cannot fund the sector. We therefore must ramp up the work of the National Education Trust. We must present a plan and engage the diaspora in supporting education and we still must call on those parents who can pay to do so.

Students' Loan

The students' loan is the main vehicle being used to finance higher education and I am sure there is no need for me to get into the various challenges to access this, even though changes have been made at the Students' Loan Bureau over the years. The naming and shaming continue, the poor still struggle to meet the requirements. We feel that the time has come for the repayment period to be treated as a mortgage, and that the bureau be placed under the purview of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. In so doing, the ministry will be better able to respond to the needs of students. Let's face it, if the country ought to progress or prosper, tertiary education is most cogent to that process. We must widen access to traditional academic studies, as well as to technical and vocational education.

In our recently concluded summit on higher education, several issues were discussed to include financing higher education. The recommendation was made not only at the summit, but also by the minister in Parliament, that higher education institutions not already receiving grants will soon move in that direction, and those of us who are operating in the sector welcome this. However, we are quick to point out that it has to be a phased process, as colleges, for decades, have had no significant investments in our development.

Yet we are expected to prepare teachers with the skill sets to implement the new curriculum, as well as to produce workers who are equipped with the necessary skills to meet the demands of the 21st century economy. With this request we add the need for colleges to be given the autonomy to operate as tertiary institutions. The truth be told, we are operating as grand high schools, held down and directed by both the Education Act and Education Regulations of 1980.

My colleagues, would you believe that we are unable to set our own tuition fees? These are dictated by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information. Are you aware that we are unable to award a certificate programme as we do not have power to? To this end, we call for a speedy, but well thought out process to transition and separate the tertiary sector from the school system.

Violence in Schools

Violence in schools continues to haunt us. The point must be made that we support the use of metal detectors in schools based on our present realities, but it cannot be the newly accepted norm. Look at it, teachers are frustrated, administrators are frustrated. We have to seal our lips lest we are accused of abusing our children emotionally and our hands are tied.

School personnel are emotionally drained. Teachers and school administrators are operating on egg shells in great fear. Teachers and administrators are being abused physically, verbally and emotionally by students. The stark reality is that the majority of our students are well-behaved, but we seem to be allowing a hand full of maladjusted students to wreak havoc in too many of our schools. In order to allow our schools to achieve their objectives of nurturing our children, we must proceed to isolate those who are not ready to adjust to a supportive learning environment.

To this end, I am calling for the construction of time-out facilities that are equipped with the psychosocial support to help our children that need this kind of assistance. School personnel are spending far too much time to address serious behavioural issues surrounding a few students who lack discipline at the expense of treating with the majority who are ready to move on with the business of learning.

Student Performance in Examinations

I applaud the efforts of all stakeholders who worked tirelessly to prepare our students for the various examinations. In particular I want to salute our teachers. The recently released GSAT, Grade Four Literacy and CSEC results indicate general improvement and you all should be applauded. The CSEC and CAPE results provide the basis for sobering reflection because after all, it is the benchmark we use to measure the educational performance at the secondary level.

CXC has just reported that students' performance across the region has improved, but Mathematics remains an area of concern. In Jamaica, we have recorded a percentage pass rate for Math and English of 57.8 and 75.4 respectively. This data is showing an average attained rate of 7.6 and 4.6 per cent increase when compared to last year's results. I am not in the business of scaremongering, but I sincerely believe that some glaring truths are facing us and we better take note.

Colleagues, as a country we are losing the best and brightest teachers who are skilled in delivering optimal performance in mathematics and science. We are losing them to developed countries that are bent on enticing our home-grown teachers to prepare their children for the future global economy.

Recruiters from neighbouring nations are fully aware that our teachers are restless and uncomfortable with the conditions of service they have to deal with. Losing our best mathematics and science teachers means that the system is being haemorrhaged and the long-term implications will shake the core of the education system. I am proposing that we establish a special working group to enjoin the JTA, the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information the leadership of teachers' colleges, and the National Secondary Students Council to examine a suite of special initiatives to tackle this issue.

Special Education

Special Education, as we are aware, is one of the focal points in the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information. Over the years we have expanded our drive to expose teachers and parents regarding children with special needs. We have supported the co-ordination of workshops and conferences across Jamaica. It is necessary to note that the Jamaica Teaching Council has worked with the respective colleges and the JTA to promote the initiative. As we continue on our drive to promote the issues associated with special education, I urge the ministry to look at establishing a centre for educational testing in the western part of the island, similar to the one being instituted at Church Teachers' College, Mandeville. This is critical in identifying and making provisions for all learners.

We in the JTA have noted with interest and indeed give commendation to the policy to reduce the student teacher ratio to 1 to 25. This is an initiative that the JTA can take credit for. We have been at this for years. As we look forward to the full implementation of the policy, we are making clear that contract teaching cannot be the vehicle to be used to achieve this end. As a distinguished former president of this august association, I urge you; yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin. Look ever to the JTA values that we are confident you still embrace. Contract teaching is a move that goes against the very spirit of the Education Act and Regulations.

Basic Schools

We are also happy to know that the ministry is on a programme of rationalisation of basic schools and is moving ahead to establish government day care centres. We are all conscious of the significance of early stimulation to the ultimate educational success of our students. So minister, on the matter of the 0 to 7 takeover you have our full support. Equally, we want to make the point that provisions must be made to assist teachers in the sector, many of whom have upgraded themselves, to be part of the transformation that is taking place.

The National Education Inspectorate (NEI), from all indication, has been having a positive impact on the education system. We are aware that schools have been inspected and some re-inspection is also taking place. We still have lingering concerns relating to inspection standards and the final rating schools get. For example, the matter of fencing of schools as part of the safety and security standard, and other areas that may not be under direct control of the administration, but still influence the final rating of schools.

We feel that the inspectorate could have greater impact if it were to be given the mandate to assist schools in planning and implementing strategies to address areas of weaknesses identified. Our education officers are swamped by the number of schools they have under their supervision, and regardless of their best efforts, are unable to give the quality support some of our schools need. We also further support the broadening of NEI's mandate to include the ranking of schools. This focus on mathematics and English to rank schools only serves to demoralise the hard work of teachers and administrators who give of their best with the resources they have. Who is measuring input versus output? We have to turn our attention to the concept of value-added education.

Jamaica Teaching Council Bill

Let us now examine the proposed Jamaica Teaching Council Bill. The first objective of the JTA “is to promote within its competence, the educational interest of the country and keep the public informed concerning educational matters of importance and urgency”.

As an astute organisation that represents more than 20,000 members, it would never serve our interest to repel legislative oversight that seeks to advance the professional growth of our members. The records will indicate that since the genesis of the JTC bill, several of our presidents, including you, honourable minister, have articulated quite passionately the JTA's position. Contrary to a prevailing opinion, we are not against the formalisation of the Bill. We have raised our concerns and submitted our recommendations as the pertain to said Bill. We have since received feedback on our recommendations and despite the fact that all our concerns were not necessarily addressed the way we would have wanted, we are satisfied that efforts were made to address same.

The Jamaica Teachers' Association continues to keep watch on the direction of the JTC Bill. As president, I am concerned that the Bill seems to criminalise certain breaches. For example, operating without a licence could see a teacher serving six months in prison or pay a fine of half a million dollars. So, minister and past president of the JTA, we must recognise that this is a Bill to aid in the professionalisation of teaching and not a crime plan for the teaching profession. Hence, the penalties are excessive! Having said all of that, the discourse must continue to ensure that we get a Bill that achieves its stated objective. We do not have to be always punitive to get compliant.

Professional Development

Professional development is the driving force behind my candidacy. The JTA unequivocally embraces professional development for teachers, as remaining current and relevant in the craft of teaching and learning will undoubtedly redound to the benefit and consistent progress of our students. We at the JTA yearn for structured professional development programmes that are organised by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information. We must do away with the seemingly haphazard approach to engage our teachers during mid-term breaks and holidays for professional advancement.

We have noticed with grave concern that holiday breaks are slowly eroding; and as a past president, minister, you must guard against any such trend. Let me remind all of us that in 2007-2008 when we were reclassified to 80 per cent of market, the significant argument made was that teachers enjoy these holiday facilities and so could not be reclassified to 100 per cent of market. So how now, as a union, could we sit by and watch this injustice be meted out to our members?

Teachers are suffering from burn-out and fatigue and if we fail to put a halt on this practice, very soon we will be getting diminishing returns. We are therefore demanding well-timed, regulated, well-researched and highly relevant professional development initiatives that will excite our teachers about continuous improvement to their skills and capabilities.

These professional development programmes must also be incentivised to encourage teachers' willing participation. This is what happen in Canada, the United States and other parts of the world. And I dear say, Dr Ingleton, that this approach should be considered for the principals' training programme that the National Educational Leadership (NCEL) offers.

Pension Reform and Teachers

The pension act has been recently passed in both houses of Parliament. It should be known that the JTA has consistently made the point that we are not against this move but we still have concerns. To date we have not seen the regulation, we are still not sure when and how the trust will be established, we still are unsure as to when Government will start their contribution. Minister, we are seeking your assistance to clear up some of these uncertainties.

The Church and its role in Education

Minister, as a man of the cloth, I am sure you need no lecture on the matter of the church and its role in education. I strongly recommend a strengthened partnership between the church and school. We need more of the church in schools, not less. And so I use this medium to call on all church workers and leaders to get more involved in our schools. We need your expertise in counselling, mentoring, parenting and in moral development of the school community. After all, in Colossians 3:17, we are instructed that whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…”

In conclusion

My colleagues, the road ahead this year will not be easy. The challenges are many; but I am confident that our will, our resolve to overcome will take centre stage. Make no mistake, I will be unrelenting, vigorously representing your issues and promoting your work and worth. Let us honour our history and call on the survival instinct of our forefathers — those who have passed and indeed those who are alive. We are the strong union we are today because of their work.

We are here tonight standing proudly on their shoulders and as such, we shall not quit. We shall not surrender. Our feet are grounded and we look ahead, united to conquer!

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