Fewer teachers died since schools closed in March, says JTA president

PRESIDENT of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association Owen Speid, claiming that with fewer educators dying since schools were shuttered in early March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, says it might be an indication that the stress levels of the classroom have adversely impacted the health of teachers.

“I must bring to the attention of Jamaica that before COVID-19 we at the association had to attend two or three or sometimes up to five funerals each week. That is when the teachers were in the classroom. Since COVID-19 and the schools are shuttered, teachers are at home and even though they are having challenges dealing with the emergency virtual teaching, what we are finding is that since March 13, because they are out of the stressful classrooms, the hot classrooms, is that we only have had about two or three deaths since March 13, 2020,” the controversial JTA head told a Rotary Club of St Andrew, yesterday.

“That might be some sort of research we need to embark on to see if in truth and in fact the stress levels in our schools are causing deleterious impact on our educators,” Speid said.

Lamenting the stress faced by Government-paid teachers, the JTA head said there is a plethora of issues to be worked out to ensure their well-being.

Said Speid: “How can teachers be comfortable when some of their colleagues work for months without a salary, when payments are late, when it takes months for a new teacher to begin getting a salary? How is it we expect, when it takes teachers four and five years working tirelessly in the system for four and five years, and at the end of it all they are not appointed?”

“How can we expect our educators [to function when they] spend more of their waking time with our children than with their own families and then when they retire it is taking months and maybe years to get their pensions?” he questioned further.

In the meantime, Speid, who called for an audit to be conducted of school plants to gauge the resource needs, charged that a number of schools are woefully short of resources and have classrooms which hark back to the 80s.

“Some of the schoolrooms in which our children are expected to perform at a high level remain at this time similar in resemblance to classrooms and schoolrooms we had way back in those days. It is a shame on us for us to have our school systems looking this way, 40 and 50 years after. We need to shape up to ensure that our teaching and learning facilities are adequately maintained,” Speid told Rotarians.

“I have gone to more than 160 schools and what I have seen is poorly-lit classrooms, classrooms partitioned by emaciated blackboards, poorly ventilated classrooms and often classrooms with grimy walls and poorly maintained or non-existent labs,” he claimed further.

“We need to do some kind of audit and find out what are the needs; now that schools are closed it is a wonderful time for us to get out there and do the audit..to ensure that schools are equipped for teaching and learning and the classrooms are conducive. We have equipment challenges, lack of printing machines and devices. This is no secret; some of our leaders [know the conditions],” he added.

“We have an education officer for every school, and that information can easily be fed into the ministry, but what we have are some people dragging their feet and not getting the work done in good time,” the JTA head asserted.

— Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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