As someone trained as an economist, being among the few in Guyana to have taken courses sponsored by the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Center (CARTAC) of the IMF, I am solely responsible for my long stay of ten years in the teaching profession. That said, with kids now approaching their CSEC exams, I’ve had plenty of reason to learn and understand the mechanics of education over the years. My salary aside, I sought to ensure that all the students who came through my hands did their best, this for me being to get the first year not only in the subjects I teach, but in all the subjects they study. It may sound demanding, but the students I teach happen to be some of the brightest produced by Guyana, and by extrapolation based on sampling techniques, in the world. Indeed, I could say that I have achieved a good degree of success, with a few having been recognized and rewarded for their performance in the business side over the years, which is the area in which I specialize. This, of course, is in addition to those who got superlative freshman numbers in their exams.
My concern, however, has always been the general underperformance, in my opinion, of the national student body. For 2022, given that the overall pass rate (grades 1-3) for soft and hard skills was 68.5% out of a total of 9,808 students (https://www.stabroeknews.com/2022/09 /06/news/guyana /guyana-records-improved-maths-english-performance-at-csec/). This means that approximately 3,090 students received grade four or lower. The situation is much worse for mathematics alone, where only 34.3% reached grades one to three. This means that a total of 6,445 students essentially failed math, receiving Year IV or less. Although observed to be an improvement over the previous year’s performance in mathematics, it is still a staggering number and a recurring theme over the years. . The underlying question is: Why did these children fail? Given the relative consistency of performance over the years, what is going on in our education system that has prevented thousands of our children from getting the basic education needed to gain decent employment? It is common knowledge that the main culprit is teacher compensation. Undoubtedly, inadequate compensation has made teaching and providing the necessary and much needed care and attention to Guyanese students an almost impossible challenge, with all the ills associated with inadequate compensation already in the public domain.
Teachers know that it is a deliberate government policy to maintain depressed salaries for teachers and besides being demoralized they find it almost impossible to have the energy to carry out their mandate to educate our children. In summary, teachers’ salaries do not allow them to buy their own homes, with the mortgage on a basic two or three bedroom home costing around $7-9 million alone being $70,000-90,000. , or ten thousand dollars for every million. of the value of a house. Even with a rent of thirty thousand dollars a month, the teachers must meet the costs of travel, basic food, internet and maintenance of their families, which still keeps them in the negative each month. The government is well aware that internet charges of $10,000 are now a standard cost for Guyanese households. For those who do not know it or have never thought about it, it goes without saying that the salaries of teachers, of all civil servants, constitute a standard of living in societies, where these workers are responsible for performing government service. , to administer the affairs of the country and to serve the needs of the citizens of the nation. The obvious rationale is that the government must ensure that it selects from among the best workers available and that these workers are adequately compensated.
Paying civil servants is not something governments waste their time on. In the simple context of the ethics and governance framework/procedure, this is the right thing to do. It has also long been observed that many civil servants have been categorized as Guyana’s working poor, unable to meet the basic needs of housing, food, clothing, let alone the education of their children in our orchestrated socio-economic tragedy. by the government. Since education happens to be the most transformative force in bringing about development through creating a skilled workforce and generating successful new entrepreneurs, it is imperative that the government make teacher salaries, especially all civil servants, a priority in their economic policy framework. I have long suggested a general cost of living adjustment, which in light of the rising cost of living, I have now increased to at least $70,000 per month. The government, their ministers, are well aware of the crisis in the cost of living for teachers, and know well that it is not an exorbitant amount. Their ministers themselves benefit from the 50% salary increase granted to them by the previous administration. Moreover, such a general adjustment benefits everyone and is fairer than a 10-15% increase.
Coming back to the causes of our children’s failures, a big problem remains the challenges posed by many of our children from families living below the poverty line. This can be effectively addressed by developing an incomes policy aimed at eliminating poverty in Guyana, and by working with unions and employers to ensure that workers receive the minimum wage, which I have long proposed should be in the range of $125,000/month. Again, this is not an outrageous number. Workers must receive this amount to get out of the government-engineered poverty in which we live. When it comes to teachers, I can only say that I know and understand their struggles, the choices they face. I know they have every reason to underperform. However, I urge them to adopt my strategy of doing the impossible, which is much more difficult with the students in their care. Teachers know their criteria for success: that the child knows, understands and can apply the knowledge acquired to obtain more than 90% in non-CSEC classes and in the first year at the CSTC. Teachers know that completing the program is not the goal. Getting 90% and above, first-graders are. As difficult as I know, it is the mission, the vision that I share with them, if only to make our children the successes that we all know and to feel accomplished to overcome the impossible.
If they find this task too difficult, teachers are encouraged, for their own well-being, to seek employment in the private sector, to seek teaching jobs abroad, or even to change profession. But I urge them to make the failure of our children unacceptable. I know the proverbial bell curve well. Adhering to this, however rational, justifies their failure, but is invalidated when teachers do not do all they can to break down children’s barriers. My analysis is as follows: it is not our children who have failed, it is our teachers who have abandoned them. It is not our children, our teachers who have failed. It was our government that let them down. Finally, teachers must understand that in addition to being able to work, they must also be able to demand and obtain the remuneration that is due to them. They should know that in our dirty game of national politics, their union was designed to defeat them. And the Union played the game all the time. Indeed, according to a Nigel Baptiste from the teachers’ union, the existing agreement between the union and the government was designed in such a way that there could be no recourse to arbitration without the agreement of the government, which which they have shown they will never do. (I requested an audience with both the President and the General Secretary of the Union to hold further discussions without success.)
The Union, under this agreement, is just a puppet, a toothless lion, a waste of time, in our familiar sense, since it cannot unilaterally go to arbitration, which it should be able to. The protests also turned out to be a waste of time. I suggested that this issue be taken up in our courts at our meetings, with the union asking the court to declare the existing contract void as it unfairly represents the interests of teachers. The union can further ask the court to void the contract and, in light of the government’s willful intransigence, fair and meaningful treatment of teachers’ salaries over the years, order the government to proceed immediately with the ‘arbitration. The union must also ask the court to order the government to make the arbitration award retroactive to the year in which the government first unilaterally imposed its pay increases for teachers. Either the union goes to court or the teachers will have to create another representative body to carry out this action and cut funding from the existing union. Teachers who have worked for at least ten years owe about six million dollars or more, those who have worked since unilateral wage taxation are owed much more, not to mention former teachers, families of deceased teachers.
The Union itself has the glaring conflict of interest problem in which its General Secretary was appointed to parliament, but still retains the GS portfolio. This is an example of the outrageous attitude towards the handling of teacher welfare issues, as it is impossible that McDonald, as a UNPA parliamentarian, could be seen to have an impartial interest in teachers’ affairs, a situation with which UNPA is obviously happy. , and whose general secretary is quite happy to play along. Teachers need to see that this is the kind of stare, disrespect and abuse they have had to put up with over the decades. Only they can stop these abuses. The government for itself is encouraged to do a lot of introspection, because there is room for improvement in the delivery of public education, health care, all other public services. They should consider that they have impoverished teachers and deprived them and their children of a better life. It is time for teachers to get the money they are owed. And their children compensated.