A daunting challenge faced by some hinterland schools is a marked shortage in teachers. This state of affairs often develops to troubling proportions when teachers leave their Regions to qualify themselves or advance their level of training.
These were among the issues that were highlighted recently when Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, accompanied by senior education officials, visited Bartica, Region Seven, to host a stakeholders’ consultation at the Bartica Secondary School.
The meeting, which is similar to a number of others that the Ministry has held in recent weeks, was intended to allow the stakeholders to share their concerns and recommendations with central and regional officials, with a view
of improving the delivery of hinterland education.
The teacher shortage was brought to the fore when one parent, in vocalising her concerns, appealed to the Education Minister for prompt replacements whenever teachers leave their schools to access training. The parent in delivering her remarks even appealed for the implementation of a facility in the Region to allow for the training of teachers; even as she pointed out that there are schools that will soon be without their full complement of teachers, as some of them will be leaving for training shortly. “When they leave for training who is going to be there to take over the classrooms?” questioned the concerned parent.
Without hesitation, Minister Manickchand embraced the recommendations of the parent but went on to point out that “our great difficulty is that we don’t like sending away teachers…because you leave a class and they don’t have teachers and that is not a healthy thing, but then we have established that it is better to have a trained teacher than an untrained one.”
“We are in a really hard position. Do we send them to be trained, in which case, three or more years a class will be without a teacher? I think we have to, because we will get better service from them afterwards but how do we deal with the babies that will be left behind while they are training?” the Education Minister queried.
She therefore, informed the gathering that her Ministry will have to ensure that ahead of granting permission to teachers to undergo training, efforts must be made to have replacements in place. Her declaration gained the approval of the stakeholders in attendance which was evident by a resounding bout of applause and nods of agreement.
Moreover, the upbeat Minister further told her attentive audience that the Ministry will perhaps soon contemplate reinstituting a training facility in the Region so as to ensure that teachers do not have to leave in order to access training. She informed that such a provision was previously offered but was discontinued because there were not adequate numbers of teachers seeking to access it there.
“That is something we can look at almost immediately to see if we can do the programme locally (in the Region) if we have a large group of persons,” said Minister Manickchand who with conviction noted “this is why I like coming to these meetings…We have some of the most beautiful policies that say, as soon as a teacher moves, you must replace them and so, but when I come here and hear from you that we have that in writing but it didn’t work.”
“That is why we have to have these meetings to make sure that we are hearing from people whether our policies are working,” noted the Minister.
In fact she related that “having it on paper is good but it makes no sense; it is not helping you, us, nor the country, if we don’t make sure it is actually being implemented,” said the Minister.
This was in direct response to a parent’s disclosure of a school that had to wait over one (school) term to be re-assigned two teachers who had left for training last year.
The Minister went on to explain that it has been found that part of the teachers’ replacement effort is in fact hampered by limited housing accommodations. “We have excess (teachers) right now in Regions Three and Four…what do we do with them? You are telling me that you need replacements almost immediately, but our concern is that we cannot send people here and tell them go under a tree, so we have to make sure that we have housing for them…that’s why we are here to address these kinds of issues,” said the Minister who informed, that her team was taking copious notes with a view to addressing the shortcomings in the Region.
Another concern that was raised at that forum was the need for teachers, after training, to be mandated to serve their respective Regions for a stipulated period before moving on. “My opinion is you were sent from Region Seven, you must come back and serve us here,” a parent firmly proclaimed.
This suggestion, the Minister said, is one that can definitely be built into the Hinterland Education Improvement Programme. This will ensure that teachers serve their Region for a specified timeframe, a notion that was well supported by a show of the stakeholders’ hands.
“This is the only country in the Caribbean where we pay our teachers to go and get trained. While they are still at school we still pay them salaries and stipends…that means we pay them to go to school.
Other countries you have to pay to go to school (yourself)…this is how much this Government has invested in education,” Minister Manickchand told the gathering of stakeholders.
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