Need for consistent focus on persistent problems in education
Members of the Dominica Association of Teachers (DAT) gathered in Anse de Mai last Friday to bond and to consider the challenges confronting teachers in Dominica on the 2014 observance of World Teachers Day.
One of the more urgent challenges confronting the teachers is the huge task of influencing government, their employer, to accept proposals for increases in salaries and other benefits, especially given the current state of the economy of Dominica. Government has proposed a salary freeze for three years, 2013 to 2015; we believe that this should be unpalatable to teachers, as it has been to other groups of civil servants. Nevertheless, we hope the silence of the DAT on that matter does not indicate that the union of teachers has become a useless dog with neither bark nor bite.
In addition to the current salary matter, other issues affecting the performance of the education sector has persisted for decades. For example, gender inequality in education has been a regular talking point but the problem continues as we observe World Teachers Day 2014. One of the major concerns, related to gender inequality, for teachers at this juncture in our development, is the crisis affecting our boys.
Educationists keep saying that a spiraling percentage of adolescent teenage boys are displaying intellectual lethargy and academic impotence. They claim that an unsettling number of male students show more susceptibility to the drug culture than girls; get suspended more frequently and generally view school and education as a waste of time. But we are not aware of any significant effort at solving the problem.
These deviant behaviour patterns among boys, experts argue, is partly due to the fact that the number of male teachers in the education system is now abysmally low. Educators are becoming increasingly aware of the need for the presence of many more male teachers in order to turn around boys' underachievement and provide role models. Nevertheless, our country has not initiated a vigorous effort at recruiting more males as teachers in Dominican schools.
So what are the reasons for men's avoidance of the classroom? The issue of salary tops the list, we are told. Many males go after higher paying jobs since teaching is not really a profession that pays salaries commensurate with the responsibilities and stress related to the job. Additionally, many males believe that teaching is woman's work. Again, there is the prevailing philosophy within the education system that men go into teaching to "teach the subject," and women enter teaching to nurture and develop children. Hence, the argument states, males tend to gravitate toward secondary and tertiary educational institutions, leaving a critical shortage of male teachers at the elementary and pre-school levels.
Another aspect of gender inequality that Dominican teachers may want to consider during discussions on World Teachers Day is that although women represent an overwhelming majority of students at every level of higher education, women are disadvantaged in terms of rank and institutional prestige.
But gender inequality is not the only major problem affecting teachers in Dominica. Consider this: without teachers there will be no schools; without schools, our youth would wilt like flowers in the hot Dominican sun. This sounds simple enough. But paradoxically, policy makers continue to treat teachers as if they cost a dime a dozen. They seem oblivious to the fact that teachers are absolutely important to the attainment of good quality education that is essential for achieving the level of sustainable development that we desperately need.
Many persons are of the view that our education system itself has simply not worked well enough to ensure adequate levels of social and economic development. Though we have made some progress in terms of the population's access to education and our students have performed creditably at regional examinations, the overall quality of our education remains quite low. More than forty percent of students at some secondary schools do not attain the required standards to be able to graduate. Additionally, given the high level of unemployment that exists side by side with the scarcity of skilled workers in many areas the relevance of our curriculum is questionable.
Another issue that teachers must be concerned about is the high level of ill-discipline in schools. Indeed, many teachers will admit that coping with ill discipline in schools is one of the foremost challenges of the teaching profession in Dominica and the rest of the Caribbean. For instance, last week education officials in St. Lucia were considering instituting curfews to control groups of students who have been terrorising residents of Castries. Similar situations exist in other Caribbean capitals.
Whenever discussions on the level of ill discipline in schools ensue, the fact that teachers no longer have the status they once received enter the argument. But deviant behaviour in schools has to be blamed also on examples that abound in the wider society. What happens in the homes and on the streets of Dominica inevitably find their way inside the schoolrooms.
But the most important problem affecting education in Dominica is the inadequate attention that we have given to quality preschool education and development. The impact of that neglect should not be surprising, we have been warned.
For instance, here's what Dr Didacus Jules, the former director of the Caribbean Examinations Council wrote in a 2010 article titled "Rethinking Caribbean Education : "Attention to quality in secondary education will not yield the anticipated dividends if we don't fix primary education; and primary education is stymied in the absence of attention to early childhood development."
We are of the view that the observance of World Teachers Day is a good opportunity to evaluate how much progress we have made towards solving these persistent problems affecting education in Dominica.