Education Council of Jamaica Bill: Necessary Legislation

Some teachers feel that the teaching profession is subject to more rigid government oversight than other professional groups.

Finally, the two-decade-old Teaching Council Bill is being debated to reach consensus before legislation.

Although it has been a long time coming, it is very timely, especially as it coincides somewhat with the release of the Education Task Force report recently submitted by Professor Orlando Patterson and his team. Yet we have yet to have a national dialogue around the findings of this report and the implications for teaching, learning and training, among others. So far, industry stakeholders, including universities and colleges, have barely said a word.

How seriously do we take our nation’s education?

Since the beginning of the discussions around the bill, there has been a fierce defense of various important figures in the teaching profession. The president of Teachers’ Colleges of Jamaica, Dr. Garth Anderson, felt there was no need to vet teachers; rather, it is about further professionalizing the profession. He said that while he supports the intent of the bill, which is to set standards and guide the profession, many teachers believe the bill is primarily intended to criminalize teachers.

Teachers often feel like they can’t take a break. They are in the spotlight year-round and must contend with unruly students, overcrowded classrooms, limited resources, insufficient pay and difficult administrators. Naturally, adding this bill to their daily “miseries” will only make their work heavier. Nevertheless, it is important to have a monitoring of the profession.

One of the concerns raised is that other professionals, such as lawyers, doctors and police, are not subject to such rigid government oversight. However, these groups have supervisory bodies that monitor them scrupulously. Where I tend to agree with my colleagues is in the proposed number of people outside the teaching profession who would sit on the oversight committee. Otherwise, people seem to fear that some of the failures of teachers, including teacher educators, will be exposed.

Too many teachers are paid monthly with taxpayers’ money, but they are not serving the students, their primary responsibility. It has always puzzled me how some educators have been allowed to stay in the system until retirement, even after performing terrible results on student assessments and assessments. Some of them are terribly incompetent, even at the tertiary level. Perhaps if certain conditions were attached to their employment, they would perform better.

Recently in parliament, the Jamaica Teachers Association was asked to voice their concerns about the bill. Its president, Winston Smith, shared his discomfort with the definition used to characterize a teacher, noting that it would automatically exclude certain specialists as well as teachers who only have a diploma or certificate. In terms of qualifications, the bill proposes that a teacher should be anyone with a bachelor’s degree in education or a first degree with a graduate degree in teaching.

Smith is correct that this clause can result in job loss depending on how it is presented. However, in 2022, we shouldn’t feel comfortable that some of our colleagues don’t have at least a first degree. Worse still, some of these people have been in the system for years and have made little effort to improve. I am in no way suggesting that they are necessarily incompetent and that upgrading to a degree would bring significant changes, given that many teachers college lecturers and programs themselves need improvement; however, there should be a minimum standard for everyone.

One of the criticisms the teaching profession has faced over the years is that there are no fixed entry requirements like some other professions. Jamaica must bring itself to the level at which it conforms to international practice. What is hypocritical is that many of us would make sure to obtain the necessary qualifications to work in other countries.

In France, teachers pass a competition in their discipline to enter the profession. In Canada, teachers must obtain a license. For example, in the province of Ontario, they require the Ontario Teaching Certificate (OTC). We cannot want a First World type education when we have these gaps in the system. Should Jamaica remain a pastry forever?

While we’re at it, the relevant bodies should audit the colleges of teachers. There is a serious quality control problem. We have many students graduating with honors each year, but these fine grades are not reflected in their skills or pedagogy.

Oneil Madden is a doctoral candidate in didactics and linguistics at the University of Clermont Auvergne, France, and president of the Association of Jamaican Nationals in France (JAMINFRANCE). Send your comments to the Jamaica Observer or [email protected]

Winston Smith, president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association

The Education Council Bill was tabled in Parliament in February.

Oneil Madden

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