$20.2M vacation bonus for SEA teachers

Minister of Education Anthony Garcia on Wednesday announced that the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) will take place on August 20. Furthermore, Standard Five teachers who will be called out to prepare the students for this activity, starting from July 20, will be paid stipends to the tune of some $20.2 million – which will effectively be a vacation bonus of sorts.

Garcia made the announcement at yesterday’s Ministry of Health virtual press conference on COVID-19.

The exam, initially carded to take place in April, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an October date was initially considered. However, in announcing the August date yesterday, Garcia admitted the ministry was asking SEA teachers to come out to prepare students during their vacation.

“We understand and we accept the fact that that would be a period when teachers would be on vacation. We want to respect the right that our teachers are supposed to have an opportunity of enjoying their vacation period,” Garcia said.

“As a result, we are asking our teachers (of Standard Five classes) to make themselves available … so they may impart that knowledge and those teachings so that our students would have an opportunity, every opportunity, of performing to the best of their ability.”

Bearing this in mind, he said Cabinet had decided to offer teachers a stipend ranging from $400 to $900 per day.

“This is not salary. It is a stipend because during the vacation period teachers would be getting their regular salaries,” Garcia said.

He said teachers will be working normal school hours – 8.30 am to 3 pm – during the period, which will be 23 days not counting the actual day of the exam (August 20).

Of the payout, some 476 principals will receive the biggest chunk at $900 per day for a total of just over $10.2 million over a 24-day period. Those in the Teacher I category are next with a payout of $7.8 million to 681 teachers for a 23-day period.

He said the ministry was now in discussions with the Ministry of Finance to “identify funds that are in our budget so that we can have the necessary payments made.” However, he later noted that the ministry had budgeted $20 million to “make sure our teachers are adequately compensated.”

Garcia appealed to private schools to follow in stride with resuming classes for their students writing the examinations, noting that Government would not be able to offer a similar stipend arrangement to those institutions.

“Private schools are managed by private organisations or by private individuals and I am appealing to those organisations and those individuals to do exactly what we are doing and that is to give our students a chance at the exam and a chance that would allow them to write the exam to the best of their ability,” he said.

Garcia said officers of the Student Support Division of the ministry will visit schools to provide emotional and psychological support where needed. School supervisors and curriculum officers have also been asked to make “constant and regular” visits to the schools to ensure the curriculum is implemented.”

Responding to a question by Guardian Media, Garcia assured that the ministry will ensure that all schools are sanitised and noted they were currently in the process of doing this.

“In addition to this, our students would be asked to wear masks when they enter the schools. We are still at the point where we are discussing with the Ministry of Health whether the students would be required to wear a mask when they write the exam. So that is yet to be determined,” he said.

He also indicated that physical distancing will also be maintained.

“We have had the advice that students must distance themselves a minimum of six feet so we would be putting furniture, would be arranged in such a way that they maintain that social distancing,” he added.

During a press conference last month when the July date for CSEC and CAPE exams were announced, the ministry permanent secretary, Lenor Baptiste-Simmons, indicated that $6 million was allocated to sanitise all schools which will be facilitating exams.

The daily stipends being offered to teachers to prepare students for the SEA exam:

Principals- $900

Vice Principals (who teach an SEA class)- $650

Assistant Teachers- $400

Teacher 1- $500

Senior Teachers- $600

Head of Departments- $550

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