TEACHERS who practise their craft without being licenced and registered with the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) could find themselves facing up to a half-million dollars in fines, or jail time.
This is one of the provisions in the JTC Bill, which has been a source of anxiety for the teachers’ union over the years that it has been in the making. The Bill is now before Parliament for debate.
The legislation to regulate the teaching profession and place greater accountability on teachers also paves the way for the council to make its register of teachers open for inspection by the public.If approved, it will fulfil the recommendation of the 2004 task force on education reform to regulate the teaching profession. The JTC will, therefore, be a statutory body charged with improving performance standards in the profession, and the quality of education provided to students.
The Bill will repeal the functions of the Teaching Services Commission as it relates to registration, discipline and assessment of teacher qualifications, along with some of the other provisions in the Education Act.It also proposes to repeal certain provisions in the education regulations, and create an appeal tribunal.
There have, however, been concerns about the proposed legislative powers in the Bill surrounding matters such as suspension, and fines.
Although the JTC and teacher registration has been in place since 2008, the Bill to legally establish it has languished for years. Some issues raised from as early as 2014 by the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) remain unresolved, the 2020 commission on education transformation noted in its just-published report on a review of the education system.
The legislation covers teachers in public and private schools, as well as people who teach in approved homes or home education programmes, private tutors, whether part of full time, and guidance counsellors. Parents who want to homeschool their children must also seek approval from the council.At present, teachers are registered through an online portal where they upload certification and history of employment.
The proposal is that licences will be valid for five years at a time, and the authorisation to teach will be restricted to two years at a time, with licences eligible for renewal up to three months before expiration, and no later than one month before.
Failure to return a licence or authorisation to teach, within 14 days of being notified that they will be struck from the roll of instructors, could see a fine of up to $500,000 imposed on a teacher.
A copy of the register kept by the council, called the “roll of instructors”, will be published online, and gazetted. If the law is passed, anyone can also obtain a certified copy of the register and roll of information. This register will include, in addition to some personal information on teachers and instructors, data on their qualifications, area of speciality, and period of eligibility to teach. Those on the roll will be able to inspect it by logging into a portal maintained by the council.
The council will be authorised to have individuals who want to teach, consent to criminal record checks, and will require applicants to disclose particulars of past convictions, in accordance with the Criminal Records (rehabilitation of offenders) Act.
Teachers will, however, have the right to appeal decisions of the council not to register or grant them a licence.
The Bill sets out specific standards which teachers must meet in order to qualify for a licence, including currency of practice as a teacher in Jamaica, with at least three consecutive years of practice within the five years leading up to the time of application. A registered teacher who does not meet this practice requirement may still be able to obtain a licence.
It outlined that teachers who are dismissed due to improper conduct, or resign from an institution, are obligated to notify the council in writing within 14 days, or face possible suspension of their registration, licence, or authorisation to teach.