CAPE, CSEC top students back teachers’ strike

If teachers from across the country proceed with a planned strike next week, they will do so with the support of this year’s top students at both the Carib-bean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Pro-ficiency Examination (CAPE). 

“Their sacrifices do not go unnoticed by their students. How can we expect our teachers to put their best foot forward and go about their jobs effectively if they do not have the salaries to provide for their own families and sometimes even us? Teachers are the backbone of our nation and I give them no wrong in deciding to strike. They have never kept their mouths shut about the issue but action is long overdue, I support their decision to strike,” Guyana’s top CAPE performer this year Aadilah Ali told Sunday Stabroek.

Ali, a student of Queen’s College, recounted that after she failed to earn the presidential scholarship in 2016, it was her teachers who were able to reach her when her family couldn’t.

“My parents tried to get me to move on…talking to me and encouraging me. Numerous teachers also would’ve helped me along the way and I am very grateful as that was a very challenging moment for me but it was a very special teacher of mine, Ms Candaice Cave, who sat down with me and told me that I have a second chance and that I shouldn’t give up just yet. This particular teacher has taught me Math for four years and has become more like a mother to me. She helped me see that CAPE was my second chance,” Ali shared.

She went on to note that worldwide teachers are “massively underappreciated,” while adding that it was unfortunate that that this trend is also being seen in Guyana.

“It is disheartening that those with authority and who can implement changes refuse to acknowledge the hard work and dedication teachers’ show every day,” Ali lamented.

Christian Pile, who with 20 Grade 1 passes is the country’s top CSEC student, shared similar sentiments.

“Teachers are the backbone of our society and it seems at times that they are undervalued. So I do think that their salaries can be increased since they are the ones who mould and shape the youth to go on to do greater things,” the Queen’s College student indicated.

Like Ali, he was full of praise for his teachers, including his mother, Fayann Simpson-Pile a former teacher.

Also throwing her support behind her teachers was Sariah Singh, who secured passes in 16 units over the two years of CAPE.

“I definitely support the teachers because they give a lot of their time and energy to ensure that we receive the best and they deserve to be rewarded for that. Teachers go beyond the call of duty and the value of their services should be recognised and rewarded,” the Queen’s College student said.

Her classmate, Rajiv Muneshwar, has a more nuanced view of the situation.

According to Muneshwar, teaching is one of, if not the most, difficult jobs there is in the world and teachers in this country are heavily undervalued for the hours they put in. He, however, expressed the belief that true progress can only happen through the small victories over a period of time.

Asked to describe one of those small victories, Muneshwar said “compensation for the time, outside of school hours, teachers take to mark and assess School Based Assessments is definitely one I hope to see.”

Numerous meetings between the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) and the Education Ministry have failed to yield progress for an agreement on proposed salary and non-salary benefits for teachers.

Following a meeting last Thursday, the two parties have expressed vastly different sentiments on the issue.

While union president Mark Lyte has said the GTU was very dissatisfied with the engagement, Minister of Education Nicolette Henry described the meeting as very productive.

Coming out of the meeting, Henry said, “We have determined that most of the non-financial issues were settled to a large extent. Therefore, the more heavy lifting ones, particularly the issues relating to salary increases and de-bunching, are still to be resolved.”

The government has refused the union’s request for a 40% increase on 2015 salaries and proposed instead to offer a ballpark figure of $700 million to facilitate an increase in salaries for all teachers based on the current salary scale. It has also said it will make available a ballpark figure of $200 million to facilitate a de-bunching exercise for teachers for the new school year of 2018/2019.

Henry stressed to reporters that in different circumstances, government “would have been happy to honour in full the agreement but we do not have the resources and fiscal space at this time to honour what they are asking for.”

Meanwhile, Lyte indicated that the union objected to the fact that the ministry was not prepared to offer increased incentives for improved qualifications. The ministry did not agree to pay an $8,000 clothing allowance and to grant Whitley Council leave after three years. The hard lying allowance also remains the same.

For the last ten years, teachers who upskilled to a Certificate in Education have earned an extra $4,000 a month, those with a Diploma in Education have earned an extra $6,000, those with a Master’s Degree earn an extra $10,000, and those with a Doctoral Degree earn an extra $30,000. 

Government has refused a request to increase the sum paid for a Certificate in Education to $7,000, a Diploma in Education to $10,000, Masters’ Degree to $25,000 and a Doctoral Degree to $35,000.

It has also refused to offer remuneration for a Management Certificate and a Special Needs Certificate. The union has requested an extra $6,000 and $ 10,000, respectively, for teachers holding these qualifications.

All other allowances were refused on the basis that all new allowances will have to be considered in line with the wider public service.

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