No one would question the importance of education in the modern world. Whether we are speaking from a perspective of ensuring that citizens are trained to improve our national economic performance or from a social perspective of ensuring that we produce a more cohesive society, education will have to be the driving force. And when we speak of ‘education’, we are speaking of teachers who will have to deliver that education.
There has been much ado about delivering education through the new Information and Communication Technology (ICT), but this will simply augment the roles of teachers – not replace them. One of the pluses of the PPP’s administration is that they have allocated a credible segment of their annual budget to the education sector. This year, $8.2 billion has been proposed – representing a 9.4% increase over last year’s spending.
Coincident with the presentation of the budget in parliament, the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) held their elections. Emphasising the importance of the teaching profession, President Ramotar was in attendance at their Third Biennial Conference and reiterated his administration’s support for their needs. The newly elected president, Colin Bynoe, later enumerated the challenges confronting teachers and highlighted the GTU/Ministry of Education multi-year agreement that had not been completely implemented to date.
However, in a refreshing departure from the usual rhetoric, he candidly expatiated on the concomitant responsibilities of teachers towards fulfilling their contractual and moral duties. First was the refusal of some teachers to dress in a ‘professional’ manner. Teachers are authority figures to their young charges, and they ought to set an example of proper dress and decorum to them. We agree with him that all too often, teachers dress as if they are on a catwalk with their plunging necklines and bared chests. We expect head teachers to insist on a dress code for teachers in all schools.
On a related matter, Bynoe noted the number of dismissals of teachers for inappropriate behaviour with students – descending into sexual relations. This, of course, has been a perennial problem – and not unexpected, because of the number of comparatively youthful teachers entering the system annually. Here again, head teachers have to establish monitoring systems, to nip this betrayal of trust in the bud.
Then there was the problem of absenteeism and tardiness – not on account of attending UG or Cyril Potter which also create hardships to the students –but teachers just not showing up for classes. There is not a single school in Guyana where on any given day, a large number of children are not taught two or more of their assigned subjects.
A new abuse is for teachers to be in school but to get onto social networks like Facebook – either from phones or computers in staff rooms. From what the GTU president revealed, the content of the teachers’ postings on these sites are totally inappropriate towards fostering respect in their students towards them and by extension, the entire educational programme.
But sadly, Bynoe did not mention one of the most insidious practices that have almost degutted the entire education system from delivering its most laudable goals: teachers giving private lessons. President Ramotar did, however. We recognise that there will always be students that need extra tuition. We recognise that there will always be parents that want to give their children an ‘edge’. We recognise that teachers being human, would always want to earn some extra discretionary income – especially when, while teachers’ salaries have risen exponentially over the last decade, it is still below that of their peers in neighbouring countries.
But what we do not recognise is the right of those teachers that do not complete their curriculum in the classrooms to ‘offer’ lessons to do so. Like the ‘offer’ of the Godfather which couldn’t be refused, it is a form of blackmail that is more reprehensible given that it extorts from minors. And it occurs from Grade 2 to Grade 13 – especially in the ‘elite’ schools.
Pity those students that cannot afford the lessons.