Time to break JTA’s re­sis­tance to ac­count­abil­ity

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

PRE-EMPTORY AC­TION is never the pre­ferred course when par­ties with dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on is­sues are at­tempt­ing to ar­rive at a com­mis­sion po­si­tion.

Some­times, how­ever, it is im­pos­si­ble to “bring minds to­gether to cre­ate a work of art and ... ar­rive at a beau­ti­ful spot” as is the aim of Win­some Gor­don, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ja­maica Teach­ing Coun­cil (JTC), the agency estab­lished eight years ago to reg­is­ter teach­ers and to reg­u­late the teach­ing pro­fes­sion.

Since then, the JTC, and more broadly, the Ja­maican Govern­ment, has failed to fos­ter con­sen­sus with teach­ers and their union, the Ja­maica Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (JTA), on the ba­sis of their reg­is­tra­tion and per­for­mance stan­dards, against which they are to be pe­ri­od­i­cally as­sessed.

The at­ti­tude of teach­ers and the JTA has ranged from pas­sive re­sis­tance to open hos­til­ity on the claim of pro­tect­ing the rights of teach­ers to nat­u­ral jus­tice and pro­fes­sional fair­ness against po­ten­tially ar­bi­trary ac­tions by reg­u­la­tory of­fi­cials. Most peo­ple, how­ever, see the build­ing of ram­parts against ac­count­abil­ity for in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour and/or pro­fes­sional in­com­pe­tence.

AGREED STAN­DARDS

In­deed, as it now stands, de­spite the ar­gu­ments to the con­trary by the en­trenched es­tab­lish­ment, once hired, it is ex­ceed­ingly dif­fi­cult to pry a mis­be­hav­ing or non­per­form­ing teacher out of his or her job, as­sum­ing that there are mea­sures with which to make such a judge­ment. The idea, there­fore, is to es­tab­lish agreed stan­dards, which, on the face of it, would be in the in­ter­est of all stake­hold­ers: stu­dents, par­ents, tax­pay­ers and, crit­i­cally, those teach­ers who want to per­form at their op­ti­mum and don’t mind be­ing mea­sured against set tar­gets.

The prob­lem is that teach­ing, with a crit­i­cal mass of be­low-par per­form­ers, has long be­come a cosy pro­fes­sion, whose in­do­lence is in­su­lated by the po­lit­i­cal power of its union. It shows, in part, in the ed­u­ca­tional out­comes of Ja­maican stu­dents at the pri­mary and sec­ondary lev­els. In­deed, up to a third of stu­dents leave the pri­mary sys­tem not ready for sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion.And even af­ter a huge chunk of the sec­ondary co­hort is screened out of school-leav­ing ex­ams, the ma­jor­ity of those who take the tests still strug­gle to gain de­cent grades in maths and English at the CXC sec­ondary-school ex­ams. In­deed, no more than 20 per cent of those who take the ex­ams an­nu­ally pass five sub­jects in a sin­gle sit­ting.

Yet, the teach­ers who de­liver these re­sults year af­ter year re­main in their po­si­tions, not only con­fi­dent that at the end of each ne­go­ti­at­ing cy­cle they will be re­ceiv­ing the same pay in­crease and in­cre­ments as the top pro­duc­ers, but aware that they will not be chal­lenged on their suit­abil­ity for the pro­fes­sion, or ul­ti­mately, whether they are good for Ja­maica’s chil­dren.

The non-per­form­ers like it that way. The teach­ers’ union ac­qui­esces be­cause it’s eas­ier and, im­por­tant, it en­trenches its power.

The JTC’s Dr Gor­don, at a sym­po­sium on the is­sue, re­peated that point that the ap­praisal process is not about be­ing puni­tive and ap­pealed to the teach­ing pro­fes­sion for trust. “...We are try­ing to grap­ple with the mat­ter of di­a­logue,” she added.

At some point, though, lead­er­ship will have to as­sert it­self. That point, this news­pa­per be­lieves, is fast ap­proach­ing when the Govern­ment will have to take a stand.

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