Dr. Blaize, left and DAT President Alexander
Dr. Blaize, left and DAT President Alexander

We repeat ad infinitum. Teachers are Dominica's most valuable resource yet they are undervalued, under paid and seriously underappreciated. And the on-going COVID-19 pandemic has seriously underscored that fact, here and in the rest of the world as well.

Jessica Salfia, a teacher in West Virginia in the United States wrote in August in an article titled: "Teachers should do their jobs? I can assure you we are doing more" published on the website: "100daysinappalacha.com" that compared to a frontline nurse who is at the frontline of the ongoing battle against the coronavirus, she is also woefully underpaid although she faces the same risk of being affected by COVID-19.

"In addition to the vast discrepancy in salary, I will not be provided full PPE while dealing with one student at a time like an ER nurse. Instead, I will be in a cloth mask in a room with 20 teenagers also in cloth masks — teenagers who may or may not leave those masks on. I will be trying to keep those 20 teenagers 6 feet apart in case they are asymptomatic, while teaching them how to be better readers, writers and humans. If I am exposed to COVID-19 and have to quarantine, there may not be a substitute teacher available to cover my class or my lessons," Salfia wrote.

In addition to bringing this discrepancy to the fore, the pandemic has taught our planners of education a very valuable lesson. COVID-19 has caused and is causing unprecedented disruption of the education system and has acerbated the need for immediate change.

That disruption is happening everywhere- from New York City to Dos Dane village, from the Dominica State College to Cambridge University, from the Massacre preschool to the London School of Economics.

But amidst the COVID chaos there is the global realization that although on-line learning was of tremendous benefit during the pandemic when schools were closed to curtail the spread of the virus, there is no real substitution for the teacher in a face-to-face setting.

"Perhaps one of the greatest benefits we gained as a sector from this experience was a more critical and balanced view of the value and role of online learning. We found that while remote learning modes can support achievement, they can never meet the educational needs of all our students, and that face-to-face and blended elements still have a central role to play" wrote Dawn Freshwater of the University of Auckland in the publication, The UN Chronicle.

As we celebrated World Teachers Day on 5 October along with Dominican teachers and all teachers worldwide, we needed to remind them of another serious consequence of COVID-19. The pandemic has widened the already wide gap between the underprivileged student and the privileged.

"Because of COVID-19, nearly 1.6 billion learners – more than 90% of the world's total enrolled student population – have been affected by school closures," wrote Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO and Guy Ryder, Director-General, International Labour Organization, Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF and David Edwards, General Secretary, Education International in a joint statement on the occasion of World Teachers' Day 2020. "The COVID-19 crisis has also affected over 63 million teachers, highlighted persistent weaknesses in many education systems and exacerbated inequalities, with devastating consequences for the most marginalized".

But on World Teachers Day we continued to be concerned about a series of problems that just won't go away and is likely to become worst during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the key concerns is how do we face the challenge of making teaching attractive to young persons, especially young men, and teacher dissatisfaction. UNESCO believes that although the factors identified for causing teacher dissatisfaction depend on context, common factors across countries include a mixture of poor work-life balance, scarce opportunities for professional development, low salaries, limited inputs to decision-making, feelings of being unsupported and unappreciated, attacks on teachers' employment terms and conditions and constant pressures created by out-of-phase curricular and exam reforms."

Administrators in the teaching service would probably want to answer some of these questions posed by UNESCO:

What kind of incentives might help to attract the most qualified and committed young talents into teaching? What kinds of contractual relationships, remuneration and rewards are qualified candidates looking for, and how do existing policies line up with their ambitions and expectations for career progression?

What could be envisaged to generate more flexibility in recruitment, teacher education and deployment policies to work with young people in meeting the teacher gap?

In addition, we should always remember that teachers, good ones, are probably worth their weight in diamonds. But we continue to pay lip service to the value of teachers in the development of our nation.

And this is especially true of the Early Childhood Education sub-sector where dozens of underpaid, under-trained and under-valued teachers of our young children struggle every day.