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Jamaican Teachers Head to North America. Abandon Local System

Tired of complaining about scrounging to make a decent living, thousands of high school teachers in Jamaica are abandoning the country, heading to Canada, the U.S., and the UK to accept teaching positions that pay them far more than they earn at home. Jamaican authorities, however, are worried about the impact their departure will have on the local system.

Early last week, authorities had complained that more than 430 teachers had quit the system as of mid-August, just a few weeks before this week’s reopening of schools for the academic year. However, by last Friday, they had updated the number to 854 after an additional 400-plus teachers handed in their resignations after collecting salaries for the month. Many headed to international airports after doing so.

Education Minister Fayval Williams said that the 854 is way less than the 1,538 teachers who quit the public schools system last year under similar circumstances, many having specialized training in math and English language. These are the ones who are often specifically targeted by recruiters from western nations. And when they are not fleeing to North America or Europe, others are headed to the nearby Bahamas, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands, putting even more pressure on the local system.

The situation is so serious that Williams took to the national airwaves on Sunday night to address the issue, hours before hundreds of thousands of students returned to schools after the main annual holiday break. “We know that there may be some lingering unease about the number of teachers who have left the system, but I want to assure Jamaicans that there are enough high-quality teachers available to support the teaching and learning process at the highest standards,” she said. “We are at the threshold of an era where change is not merely a concept but a living reality. Our dedication to revitalizing and invigorating the landscape remains steadfast.”

But while the minister tried to sell optimism and hope that the system will function well despite the departures, Teachers Association President Leighton Johnson argued that many schools will be scrambling to find replacements. “The situation that currently exists right now is that there are schools that will begin the new school year and are unable to fulfill critical vacancies. There are critical areas such as mathematics, English, and in some technical disciplines. Those areas are in very short supply as we speak.”

Meanwhile, Linval Wright, president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, told the Gleaner newspaper that while there are still many dedicated and high-quality professionals in the system, there is no doubt that the quality of the teaching product will be affected. “In critical areas such as English and industrial arts, schools will have to work through how best to prepare the students with the experience missing. Migration will definitely affect the quality as many who left were seasoned and knew the ropes well,” he noted, suggesting that in some instances, the replacements “will do as good or even a better job than those who have left.”

Other Caribbean Community countries, like Guyana and Trinidad, have also had similar experiences with recruiters targeting their best and most experienced—while colleagues who have left and are settled have often paved the way for others to join them overseas. As authorities prepare to make a full assessment of the impact this week, opposition spokesperson on education Damion Crawford predicts that the number of resignations will swell to well beyond 854 in a few days. “I am predicting that another 300 will leave in the next 20 days because the teachers don’t resign from the ministry. The teachers resigned from the school. There is a natural time gap between when the school receives and [when] the ministry is advised,” he said.