President of the Antigua & Barbuda Union of Teachers Vernest Mack lamented the fact that nearly 50 per cent of the teaching staff of public schools are untrained.
This she attributes partly to government’s attempt to reduce the numbers in the public service through its Voluntary Separation Package that siphoned off some of the most qualified and experienced teachers in the system and partly because of government’s lack of a plan for the profession.
At the same time, Minister of Education Dr Jacqui Quinn-Leandro has put underperforming and unqualified teachers on notice that they need to get their act together or be booted out of the system.
While both of these officials recognise the need for trained professionals to acquire that training, each one seems to be placing the responsibility on a different source. Mack thinks it is the government’s duty, while Quinn-Leandro sees it as a shared one.
One retired teacher said that it was the norm for teachers to pay fees at Leeward Islands Teachers Training College at Spring Gardens, Antigua, a private institution run by the Moravian Church that catered to most teachers in the Leeward Islands.
Government, she said, used to provide scholarships for the top three female teachers who would study at the college, while the top three males would pursue their studies at a training institution in Trinidad.
However, when government took over teacher training, it also took over the expense, a practice that continues up to today.
Government is responsible for providing free education up to secondary level. But even tertiary level education at the Antigua State College is heavily subsidised.
It is noteworthy that people in general tend to take things for granted when they are obtained freely, forgetting that there is, in fact, no free lunch; somebody, somewhere pays.
And while we want all of these services for free, we do not want to pay the taxes that are used to provide them.
The fault some would say lie not in ourselves but squarely on the shoulders of governments past and present which have cultivated this mendicant attitude among the citizenry.
Effecting any change therefore will be an uphill task.
We all know that education is an expensive venture; and with the global economic crisis and the serious negative impact it has had on government’s revenues, the administration would be stretched to its limits to train all of the teachers in the system.
In a meeting on Wednesday, February 3, between Dr Quinn-Leandro, Director of Education Jacintha Pringle and the executive of the union, the minister gave the commitment that all untrained teachers who were in the system up to December 2009 are guaranteed training at the ministry’s expense. Those who become teachers as of this year will have to fund their own training.
Bearing in mind the economic hardship in which the government finds itself presently and the reduction in revenue due to the decrease in the tourist trade, achieving this goal will certainly be a tall order.
While some may argue that it is government’s responsibility to train teachers, in the same way that any private sector business is responsible for training its employees, we are convinced that teachers also have a responsibility to educate and train themselves.
What if the government is unable to train the remaining 50 per cent by the time stipulated?
While government provides a large number of scholarships for persons to pursue tertiary level education, it also makes provisions for public servants, including teachers, to continue to improve themselves academically and professionally if they so desire.
Under the Civil Service regulations, if you have been in the service for a number of years, you are eligible for study leave, when you are paid one year’s full salary and six months at half pay.
If you qualify for duty leave, you would be paid your full salary for the four years you spend pursuing a degree.
Therefore, if you were to get a loan to further your education, your salary could be paying for that loan while you are studying. And there are many teachers who have capitalised on this opportunity.
When you think about it, teachers are better paid than other civil servants. Not only that, their hours of work permit second jobs in which many of them engage.
Therefore, there is no reason why teachers could not channel some of those funds and the available time during the Easter, summer and Christmas vacations to acquire that training and education necessary for their professional development, which in turn would redound to their benefit as well as to their students.