THE EDITOR: The Prime Minister recently made known his intention to have the service commissions disbanded. This, in my view, is welcome news where the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) is concerned since its presence makes little difference in terms of solving the deep-rooted human resource management problems in the education sector. Removing it would allow the spotlight to fall on the employer, the Ministry of Education, where, logically, the responsibility lies.
The TSC has powers to appoint, promote, transfer, confirm appointments of officers within the teaching service, as well as exercise disciplinary control over these officers. It comprises five members and functions on a part-time basis, but with the support of a full-time secretariat. The services of a legal unit are also available.
At an overarching level, the commission benefits from the advice of the director of personnel administration and/or the deputy director, both of whom are part of the wider Service Commission Department.
While only the TSC is mentioned in relation to the functions listed above, all relevant processes begin with the ministry and the Division of Education of the Tobago House of Assembly. However, no teacher is deemed to be appointed, transferred, etc unless the TSC gives the act its stamp of approval. It must be ratified by the TSC.
This two-tiered operation may seem straightforward. However, it has been bogged down with backlogs that remain uncleared over long periods of time with the TSC not having the means to have the matter resolved.
Uncleared backlogs are not the only problem. Recruitment of staff into primary schools managed by denominational boards also entails its own challenges, as evidenced in the recent impasse between the ministry/TSC and the denominational boards.
The ministry had invited applications to fill Teacher 1 positions in government-assisted (denominational) primary schools. But there is one sticking point here. According to the Concordat, boards have the right to select prospective applicants that meet their criteria, then forward the names to the ministry for the interview to take place.
It is not difficult to see how, over time, such a practice could skew the whole recruitment exercise in the boards’ favour, thereby relegating large numbers of applicants, not proposed by a board, to an ever-growing waiting list. The latest count was 2,000.
Consequently, in its recent call for applications, the ministry/TSC proposed that boards should make their selection from the existing list. However, they objected, citing the Concordat.
The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and Presbyterian boards have reportedly taken legal action against the TSC. The Roman Catholic board is also flexing its muscle. In the latest report, it seems as if a deal is being worked out. But the key question remains. What about the 2,000 applicants who are yet to sit in the interview chair?
Another matter of concern is the placement of people with the UTT BEd degree, at least the degree that was offered up to two or so years ago. For some time now, some teachers from the primary sector, having graduated with that degree from UTT, have been able to obtain transfers to secondary schools.
It is not clear to me whether the university had separate offerings for primary and secondary teacher education, or whether there was a single composite programme that catered to both streams.
A couple questions however arise. To what extent is the current demand for trained teachers in government-assisted (denominational) primary schools a result of vacancies created by the movement of staff from those schools into the secondary sector? Further, how does this movement affect the morale of those trained teachers who have stayed in the primary sector?
Considering the above, the Prime Minister’s call for the service commissions to be disbanded is very relevant to the TSC, as it has not shown itself capable of handling the deep-rooted human resource management issues that plague the education sector.
In any event, it is the employer, the Ministry of Education, that must shoulder the full responsibility for resolving these myriad issues. For this to happen, the ministry’s human resource management infrastructure must be substantially revamped. It must also include a strong presence in the educational districts.
The support staff of the TSC secretariat should be incorporated into the revamped structure. In addition, the Service Commissions Department should be mandated to provide oversight of the upgraded structure.
Finally, it is evident that the Concordat is being weaponised and used to subvert the authority of the State. It should be removed.
former TSC member