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Teacher status and remuneration ...when it all goes south

By Oneil Madden

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

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The recent release of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) results has caused much controversy in the public domain with divergent views being expressed concerning the format and accuracy of the scores. I am sure that, as with the former Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), the results brought with them much excitement, surprises, and equal disappointments.

Indubitably, every reform comes with constraints, uncertainties and fears. If Jamaicans were ever like the French, there would be ongoing protests. Nonetheless, the important thing is that the students know their status — they have more or less an idea of their level of proficiency, and they have been placed in a school of their choice or not.

While parents and students start to make the necessary preparations for the next academic year, this is not the same for many teachers who are still unsure of their status with the Ministry of Education.

It has become more apparent that there is either a gap or some level of inconsistency between individual educational institutions and the Ministry of Education regarding the rank of certain teachers, notably at the secondary and tertiary levels. Those who are closely linked to education would understand that there are different levels of statuses given to teachers; these include pretrained, diploma, graduate pretrained, trained graduate, assistant lecturer, lecturer, etc. As anyone would guess, each of these levels, along with the type of qualification that a teacher has, comes with a specific salary range.

There have been numerous recurrent cases in which individual institutions employ teachers to fill vacancies and subsequently provide them with a letter according them permanent status. Let's consider the case at the tertiary level, as I am more familiar with this system. A university recruits a lecturer to fill a clear vacancy. The lecturer serves his or her probationary period and later receives a letter from the human resources department stating that he or she has been granted a permanent position as a fully fledged lecturer. You can imagine the relief this lecturer feels when he or she goes to work and sees this letter in/on his or her letterbox or desk. Just like anyone else, the lecturer starts to budget his or her money and makes plans for future projects — it could be to further studies, take out a mortgage, purchase or upgrade his or her vehicle, etc.

Simultaneously, the human resources department sends the lecturer's file to the relevant branch of the Ministry of Education for review. And we know how it goes in most government agencies; the process takes a long time. Eventually, the file is assessed and feedback is provided — sometimes three to four years later. Unfortunately, the feedback is not always favourable.

The last thing that is on a lecturer's mind, or that he or she wants to hear, is that he or she has been demoted to the status of assistant lecturer after three or four years — or even one year, for whatever length of time. This demotion is so drastic because it means that the lecturer's salary will now be cut significantly. What is worse is that the Ministry of Education obliges him or her to repay all the now-determined 'excess' amounts that he or she had received in the previous years. They will even threaten to take further actions if this money is not repaid. Now, what exactly do they expect this lecturer to do? The Ministry of Education claims that the lecturer has a right to appeal, but what happens if he or she loses this appeal?

This new development can turn out to be very stressing for an already-burdened lecturer. Of course, there are various reasons a lecturer might be demoted; in this case, insufficient years of teaching experience, lack of requisite qualification for the level being taught, and incomprehension, unappreciation and incorrect evaluation of international certification. On the matter of the latter, it is sometimes difficult for a lecturer to find the required equivalent for certain programmes done internationally, especially when educational systems are dissimilar. For example, the French system offers a lot of high-level certifications that do not exist in the Anglophone society, and sometimes translation does not help. At this point, the evaluation of the certification cannot be done solely on the translated version of the certificate, but it must take into account the content covered, duration of the programme, and also the educational level and value of the certification in the country where it was obtained. Confronted with this situation, the already-traumatised lecturer now has to go through the bureaucratic system of this foreign country to get an official document to justify his or her level of qualification. Sadly, this may still mean nothing to the Ministry of Education.

There ought to be better management of or precautions taken in the recruitment, appointment and evaluation processes. A demotion is not only very embarrassing and insulting, but also financially destructive. Does the Ministry of Education really expect teachers to repay sometimes hundreds of thousands that they have already used?

 

Oneil Madden is a PhD candidate in didactics and linguistics at the Université Clermont Auvergne, France. Send comments to the Observer or oneil.madden@uca.fr.


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