THE power outage that marred the Education Conference of the St. Lucia Teachers Union on Wednesday was not the only factor to stain the celebrations of Teachers’ Week which ends today.
Dwarfing the celebrations, albeit from a mental perspective, was the reflection among teachers as to their importance on government’s priority list, especially since this year alone a number of issues have forced them to question their relevance.
Permanent Secretary in the Department of Education, Innovation and Gender Relations, Allison Jean, tried to allay teachers’ fears in a message on World Teachers’ Day (Thursday) by expressing gratitude to teachers.
“The fact that teachers are the backbone of any society cannot be downplayed. The teaching profession has become increasingly challenging in our ever-evolving technological environment. Bearing this in mind, (my Ministry) applauds the efforts of St. Lucian teachers who are striving to nurture and inspire students to unlock their full potential,” Jean said.
She added: “Out of a real sense of appreciation for teachers and the vital contribution that they continue to make to nation-building, the Ministry salutes all teachers for going above and beyond the call of duty to educate and empower students of St. Lucia.”
But Jean’s efforts at raising teachers’ morale or giving them the acclamation they justly deserve may not have resonated with their union’s president, Julian Monrose. He is not pleased with a number of things transpiring in the education system; in particular, the move by Sir Arthur Lewis Community College (SALCC) to suspend the general teachers programme it provided for many years.
The College said the programme was under review; hence it could not take on students this year. For Monrose, this was simply outrageous and raises red flags over the Ministry of Education’s utterances that teachers are the backbone of the society.
“Fundamentally, the St. Lucia Teachers Union (SLTU) has a problem with this — the dropping of the teachers programme. This did not make much sense to the Teachers Union because you do not wake up one morning and decide you are reviewing. I would think that an institution like Sir Arthur Lewis Community College would be consistently and constantly reviewing programmes. And so, you do not have to stop a programme to review it,” Monrose said.
“But more than that,” Monrose added, “the information used, or what was used by the Ministry of Education and (SALCC) to justify this is false because the Ministry of Education has been claiming that St. Lucia is self-sufficient in qualified teachers. That is not true.”
According to Monrose, each year a number of teachers leave the profession by either going abroad to seek greener pastures or retiring.
“So you have more teachers who are retiring and going abroad than you have coming out of Sir Arthur Lewis Community College. The Ministry of Education’s own statistical digest shows there are 91 percent qualified teachers in our schools at the primary level and 74 percent at the secondary school level. They (Ministry of Education) are in fact making decisions on faulty…,” an emotive Monrose said, unable to finish his sentence.
Compounding matters with the Teachers Union and Sir Arthur Lewis Community College is the discrimination meted out to teachers, according to Monrose. He said there are teachers in the system who were told that they needed to qualify themselves some more and so they applied to be in the teachers programme offered by the College.
“In some cases, they told the teachers that, yes, you have six, seven or eight subjects at the CXC level but you need to have a science subject. Those teachers went and did the science subject only to find out that the programme was suspended. That cannot be good enough. And they have not given a reason why they suspended the programme,” Monrose said.
Monrose believes the College is in limbo regarding its pronouncements of becoming a university college. He said all the Union is hearing are pronouncements of the College becoming a university college, yet no evidence is being shown of that ever coming into effect.
“Sometimes the lecturers at (SALCC) are the last to know. Decisions are made and the lecturers are hearing of them like everybody else,” Monrose said.
He said a big issue for his Union is nailing down a meeting with the College’s Board of Directors, one which the Union has been asking for since the Board was convened more than a year ago.
“The Union has written and asked many times for a meeting. The Board has refused to meet with the Union. Any time we ask for a meeting, they send the principal. The principal is administrative and, yes, there are administrative things we will discuss with the principal. But on matters of policy, we have to meet with the Board. We have complained to the Ministry of Education (who) say they will look into it. To date, we have not had that meeting,” Monrose explained.