Address of the Honorable Minister of Education, Culture, Sports & Youth Affairs, Dr. Rhoda Arrindell on the Occasion of World Teachers’ Day, October 5, 2011.
Ladies and gentlemen.
It has not been the best of times for teachers all over the world. In the United States, for example, teachers have been losing their jobs almost at a steady and certainly disturbing rate as a result of the current economic meltdown. And although this may, thankfully, not be the case on St. Martin, it is nevertheless so that the image of the teacher, once revered in society, has taken such a beating that it has become a caricature of what it used to be. What has happened to the noble profession of teaching that many of our young ones do not want to consider it as a career option today?
One answer could be found in that Bob Dylan classic: "The times, they are a-changing." But no matter how times change, one thing is clear: we need teachers as much as we did at any other time in our history, and perhaps even more so today. It is, therefore, relevant for us to reflect on why this day was established and the theme of the celebration this year.
World Teachers’ Day was established to commemorate the signing in 1966 of the UNESCO/ILO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers and also to celebrate the essential role of teachers in offering quality education at all levels. This year, World Teachers’ Day is being held under the theme: "Teachers for Gender Equality."
I am sure you are all well aware of the emphasis I have been placing on gender equality, particularly regarding the highly disproportionate ratio of female to male teachers in our classrooms. This has been an area of serious concern for me since I assumed office and we are currently devising ways and means to attract more male teachers to join the teaching corps. The situation right now, to put it bluntly, is not healthy for the education of our children, especially the boys, who seldom have male role models before them in the classrooms. In fact, when I look at the gender composition of the Ministry of Education, and the school managers, especially in the Public School system, the question that readily jumps to mind is: where are all the men gone in our education system?
I am sure, all of you teachers – male and female – share the same concern. Where are all the men gone? This is not a question for teachers alone to answer; it is a question that should trigger a more intense and constructive debate within society at large.
However, gender equality is not an issue that plagues the teaching corps alone; a look at our classrooms, especially the graduating classes at the secondary school level, would also reveal a trend that should worry all of us, teachers as well as parents; policy makers as well as the general public. It appears that the girls to boys ratio in those classes mirrors what we see in front of the classrooms with respect to the ratio of female to male teachers. This becomes very noticeable at graduation ceremonies. We will study this phenomenon in detail to determine why it is the way it is and what measures we can take to remedy it.
I depart, of course, from the premise that it takes a male teacher to relate more intimately and effectively with a male student and, therefore, inspire that student to be the best he can be.
I am not a behavioral psychologist, but picture with me that young boy who has to take orders from his mother at home because the father is not around, and who goes to school and has to take instructions from another female figure – his teacher. What is going on within his rebellious mind? Why would he be motivated to become a teacher if most of his teachers are female? Aren’t we forcing him to equate teacher with the feminine gender? Who can he model his life after? Are we surprised then when he drops out of school presumably "to be a man" in the "real world"?
May I humbly submit, here and now, that it is imperative for us to address the issue of drop-outs where the boys seem to outnumber the girls, and make education so attractive that our children – both boys and girls – will stay in school longer and complete their studies within the specified period.
Of course, there are those who may argue that gender equality already exists within our system because our educational laws do not discriminate against any gender. Unfortunately, they would be missing the point. As I said earlier, our reality shows clearly that there is an unacceptable imbalance between male and female teachers as well as male and female students, especially in the final years of secondary school and the first years of tertiary education. It is a reality we would be ignoring at our own peril.
From the policy point of view, it seems to me that, as I have said before, we would have to come up with a program specifically targeting our young men, offering them special incentives to enter the teaching profession. Call it a sort of "affirmative action" program for male teachers, if you will. The form these incentives will take is still being worked out. What we do not have the luxury to do however, is fold our arms and expect the situation to improve by itself. If we do nothing, then we should expect nothing to happen.
In fact, I dare say that the quality education we are expected to provide as teachers at all levels will, to a certain degree, depend on eliminating the gender inequality in our teaching corps and in our student body.
Similarly, that quality we are called to deliver begins with us becoming "quality teachers" ourselves. We should no longer condone mediocrity, neither for ourselves nor in our profession. That mediocrity has chipped away at the image of teaching as a noble calling. In order to repair the damage, in order to redeem that lost honor and glory, we must, as teachers, go back to making excellence job number one. In this, I want to emphasize again, there can be no compromise. We should no longer feel comfortable with mediocrity. Our motto henceforth should be, "away with mediocrity; up with quality."
All of this does not mean that teachers have not done a lot in the development of our island. That would be a gross misrepresentation of the facts. What it means is that we must be the first to recognize that we have a lot of work to do. We must be honest enough with ourselves to know that we cannot rest on our oars, and that where it concerns gender equality, all of us must put our heads together to correct the current course in which our island seems to be on.
While you should be proud of your achievements, you should be even more resolute in your determination to put a stamp of excellence on each mind entrusted to your care. I’m sure you will agree with Marva Collins, the African-American educator who said: "The good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student superior." According to her, "when our students fail, we, as teachers, too, have failed." How I wish, on a day like this, we would accept the performance of our students as a measure of our own success as teachers. But I am encouraged by the fact that most of you, indeed, are concerned about improving the quality of education on our island.
May you continue to grow in knowledge and may the Almighty grant you the wisdom required to move our nation forward, one child at a time.
Happy World Teachers’ Day to all the teachers of St. Martin!
I thank you.