Secretary praises all teachers

Please allow me space to respond to comments made elsewhere recently on teachers from the Caribbean region as opposed to teachers from more developed countries, and other teaching concerns.

I should like first of all to dissociate myself from these comments, and regret that the writer/s of the article (in another newspaper) did not see fit to question me on these concerns in the same way that I was questioned on the physical plant and school numbers in a recent interview.

Had I been asked, this would have been my response, and I ask that you give the official source as much prominence as the unidentified source.

It is a fact of life that the teaching service has more qualified people than promoted posts. Nevertheless, Caymanians are given every opportunity to apply for these posts, bearing in mind that the posts must usually be competed for, often against other qualified Caymanians.

In other words, advanced qualifications are only one consideration, and interview panels must consider other variables as well if the promotion process is to be fair.

Government’s policy to freeze increments, which has been in effect for some years, does penalize those people gaining further professional qualifications, for example Masters Degrees.

This applies throughout the civil service, and not only to teachers. It should be remembered however, that in the schools that cater for compulsory education, a Bachelors Degree and teaching qualification is the requirement. We have not yet made a Masters Degree or post-graduate qualification except in teaching, a requirement for a teaching position.

Sabbaticals

Teachers may take a sabbatical, without pay. There is no guarantee that they will be placed in the same school or in the same position when they return. This is because a replacement teacher will usually have to be recruited to take their place on a two or three year contract. If there was not a dearth of Caymanian teachers, the issue of sabbaticals would not be so problematic.

Recruitment

Over the last four years 135 teachers were recruited on overseas contracts. During this same period, 33 new Caymanian teachers joined our schools for the first time i.e. this does not include new Caymanian Status holders. Of this number, 89 teachers were recruited from the Caribbean region, our traditional recruiting ground. Cayman’s move to rejoin the Caribbean Examinations Council in 1992 made recruitment from the region even more advantageous, especially for our secondary schools.

During the period 2001 – 2004, teachers were also recruited as follows: UK – 11, Canada – 8, USA – 6, other – 1.

There is a worldwide shortage of teachers and for this reason and others; recruitment in the more developed countries is difficult. In fact, it is a well known fact that education authorities from the UK, the USA (especially New York) and Canada, recruit Caribbean teachers for their school systems every year. Often their signing bonuses include mortgages, new cars and in the case of the US, green cards.

Nonetheless, all teachers who are recruited to work in our schools must be fully qualified and have at least five years experience, if they are not Caymanian.

I most emphatically refute the notion that our contracted teachers from the Caribbean region are inferior in any way. For example, I have repeatedly commended our teachers for the way they stayed the course following Ivan and helped us get our schools back up and running by November. During this period, 82 teachers and their families were homeless, but they were still going out to the schools and raking out debris and washing floors and walls to welcome their students back.

Our Caribbean teachers especially, because they have lived in countries prone to hurricanes, were not faint-hearted and have been loyal and faithful when others might have run back to the hurricane-free temperate zones.

The Caymanian public owes a debt of gratitude to teachers, whether public or private, wherever they come from, many of whom do a thankless job in less than ideal conditions; conditions most often created by the very students they are trying to teach. We know these children, they are ours.

As far as the long-term impact on our children being incalculable, I cannot resist saying that my own four children attended public school, and I thank all those teachers who through the years have contributed to making them the fine young people they are today. My credo has always been that I would never agree to conditions and teachers for the nation’s children that I did not consider suitable for my own.

Post-Ivan bonuses

The Education Ministry still expects to give a bonus to all staff by the end of this fiscal year. It should be obvious to everybody that our first concern had to be to get our students back in school in safe conditions and replace the buildings, furniture and fittings which we had lost. I made this statement twice since Ivan, and I hope teachers will be patient just a little longer.

This year, our signing bonus for teachers, including new Caymanian teachers has been increased to take into account the hardship, especially increased rent, caused by Ivan. As I understand, the Minister for Education and his colleagues will be reviewing teachers’ salaries in due course.

Conferences

Decisions about who is recommended to attend conferences suitable for their professional development is made by the school principal, taking all factors into consideration, including whether a teacher’s absence on professional development will disadvantage the students, and to what extent i.e. is it an examination class where examinations are imminent?

It has been a long and difficult school year for all of us. We face many changes; conditions are still not what we would like them to be. Teachers are no different from anyone else, they get discouraged, they worry, and sometimes they give up. I want to encourage all our teachers not to dwell on the hurtful words; I do not in my heart believe they are shared by your students, or their parents. These are the opinions which really matter.

Joy Basdeo

Permanent Secretary

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