The teachers are going on strike. This would be the first such in as long as I can remember. For this to happen, something had to push the teachers over the line, and to my mind, they were pushed over the line.
A few months ago, there were negotiations over a pay package designed to improve the lives of the teachers. The negotiations ended with the teachers being promised that something would be done over the package.
The proposals languished with the Ministry of Finance until the teachers’ union began to ask questions and to threaten action. Last week, the government decided to meet with the teachers’ union, but from all appearances what emerged was something that the teachers could not accept.
I have to revisit my pet peeve; better conditions for teachers who are the foundations of the society. They are the people who must fashion the future. Already men have drifted away from the profession, with dire consequences for the nation. Young men with no role models in the mainstream, simply wander through school then end up on the streets as criminals.
It is because they do not see school offering anything, so they opt to try their luck on the streets, sometimes with fatal consequences. I often blamed the school system, but I failed to realize there is only so much teachers could do. For one, the supporting systems have been removed, to the extent that many teachers are helpless.
As a former teacher, I saw the slow decline in discipline. Young boys simply challenged the female teachers, but even before this began to happen, there were parents who opposed disciplinary action by the teachers. Many turned up in schools to do battle with the teachers.
The result is that the teachers took the easy way out; they simply refused to challenge errant children. They could not attempt to flog errant children whose parents had long since accepted the anti-social behaviour of their children. Many have been heard to say, “I don’t beat me children, suh nobody must touch dem.”
But there is more to this. There have been teachers who brutalized children and no one would appreciate the brutality. But then again the police later exact the same brutality on errant children. I would tell my children that I would prefer to brutalise them before the police do. The threat was enough to keep them in line.
But even when they were flogged in school, I would inform them that if they had done nothing wrong, the flogging would not have visited them. These teachers in today’s conditions would invite parents who might turn up. Some never got the invitation and were too taken up not to realize that their children were not going to school, although they left home to.
The more enterprising teachers conducted private lessons that cost many a parent an arm and a leg. For those who could not afford the private lessons, the public schools were their best and only option. So there it is; the public schools have the more difficult children. The teachers therefore deserve better than they are getting.
I left the Government Training College nearly fifty years ago – trained to teach Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics at the secondary level. Even if I may say so, I think I did pretty well. People like Dr. George Norton, Dr. Monica Odwin, agriculturalist Lloyd Barnett, Gregory Holder, Michael Fraser, who has made a name for himself in the Bahamas teaching the Sciences, and so many others, are testimony to what I did.
Incidentally, these are all Bartica children who never had the golden opportunity as their peers in the city. There were no private lessons.
I stopped teaching and became involved with the Ministry of Information for a mere $15 a month more. I was earning $215 a month as a trained teacher back in 1973. A public servant with my level of experience was earning $270 a month.
The system lost qualified teachers because of a few dollars. I would not mention the hordes that left for foreign climes for the same reason. It behooves the government to recognize that our teachers deserve better.
I was in Korea, where I learned that the teachers were the third highest paid in the system after the politicians and the members of the legal profession. It is the same in Malaysia, a country that was once as poor as Guyana, but is now a first world country.
Someone very close to me left Guyana while she was a lecturer at the Cyril Potter College of Education for Canada eighteen years ago. She has done very well for herself as a teacher in Canada, owning her own home and affording to travel as she pleases. She could not have done that had she remained in Guyana.
We do not expect our teachers to be the third highest paid in the social order, but they certainly should be properly paid. This is what they are seeking, and the government should do its best for them. It poured money into the Guyana Sugar Corporation for no return.
The government from time to time hires contract workers who all earn twice and even four times what teachers earn. But the teachers seem unable to get an increase in their lot. Is the government being penny wise and pound foolish?
The teachers may seem unreasonable to ask for a forty per cent hike in their earnings but as the head of the union said, they would not have refused a reasonable offer from the government. That reasonable offer appears not to be forthcoming, so the teachers are going on strike.
What this says is that the teachers are prepared to forego even the little that they have; they are sacrificing for something worthwhile.
I remember when the teachers in Trinidad were earning three times what the locals were earning. And rest assured our teachers are better. They are not even asking for such a massive increase.
I think the government should bite the bullet, as Jagdeo did when the Armstrong Commission recommended a fifty per cent increase in pay for the public servants. The returns would be worth it.
Of course, Jagdeo played with the tax structure, and within two years, he got back every cent of that increase, so that the public servant was no better off.
President David Granger and Finance Minister Winston Jordan may mean well for the country, but with all the good intentions in the world, unless the teachers are made happy, those good intentions would come to naught.
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