Most Guyanese are not paid adequately. Often, when we compare remunerations here to places outside our country—even if we only examine the remunerations in other Caribbean territories—significant disparities are revealed. It is the reason many graduates leave. It is the reason many of our best have left. It is the reason some of us have been advised to leave. It is the reason some of us are encouraged to have our children live and study abroad. Low wages and salaries are not the only reasons, but how one is salaried largely affects one’s quality of living.
Those who stay, the ones who are here for love of country and the ones who are here because they have no place else to go, some of them may believe that they have no voice and no choice but to settle. Others have no fight or no will to sound their voices; many may be oblivious to the fact that they deserve better or may have lost the will to challenge the system. Whether we accept it or not, we all are not equal; not because we are not all born equal, but the spectrum on which we exist establishes clear distinctions between the “haves” and the “have nots” and somewhere in the middle, somewhere near the poorer end of the spectrum, is where most of our people exist.
The means for existence will never equally be divided though we may believe that we all have the same opportunities to prosper; but when our education system does not offer holistic learning and we measure the success of our young people by their ability to score the highest marks or write and pass the most subjects, often neglecting those who learn differently, we nurture and perpetuate the system that will only guarantee the success of a fraction of the people who will not live a life of want.
We err when we give up. We err when we believe that nothing will ever change. We err when we settle and accept the belief that we all are not meant to enjoy the fullness of life with the comforts of life.
Every human being on this planet, every law-abiding Guyanese, has the right to live with the assurance that they can adequately house, feed and clothe themselves and not just exist. Many continue to exist without much living; often, it is the fault of those people for their lack of will to pursue greater and that is because they are imprisoned by the system that has not adequately provided the means for them to live a life of comfort.
Our public-school teachers are threatening to strike. I wonder why they have not been constantly striking for years due to the disregard for their importance in our society. Perhaps then their right to adequate earnings would have been a reality by now. I wonder how they have continued to keep up appearances and not buckled under the pressure of educating themselves to educate our youth, only to be rewarded poorly. They have been existing in a system that not only pressures them to ensure that their students are successful by the standards of our education system, but they have been existing in overcrowded classrooms, often with insufficient resources, faulty facilities and the unruly conduct of those students and parents who refuse to give them their due respect.
We know, too, that every teacher is not perfect, but the flaws of those who err have nothing to do with how they are generally remunerated.
I would assume that most of us are standing in solidarity with our teachers. I would assume that other underpaid public servants are observing and waiting to see if they too will be able to demand what they deserve and get their due reward.
In what world is it fair to pay a trained Graduate Teacher with over twenty years’ experience a gross salary of less than US$700 as is the case with a teacher who shared his frustration. Can a person adequately take care of family with such low salaries? Can a person save and build on less than US$700 a month, especially when one has a family? And what about the people who earn far less? Is the system telling people that one should forget about family life and that even if one remains single one must struggle?
While it cannot be ignored that the government has debts and is under pressure to appease citizens, the disregard for teachers is not an issue that started yesterday. Have teachers ever been paid what they deserve in this country? Well, evidence will show not for the longest while but then I also remember accounts from relatives and others who spent their lives in the teaching profession and who in the 50s and 60s purchased homes and lived comfortably on teaching salaries. It is puzzling now. But then again by the accounts of that generation, the cost of living was generally more affordable back then. What happened?