Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The strange world of Honduran teachers

There's no end of baffling stories in Honduran newspapers. Today, I read about a three-toed sloth - endangered here - rescued from a San Pedro Sula home where it was being kept, badly, as a pet. It's doing OK. The story was unclear why the people thought a sloth would be a good substitute for a dog.
But the reports on the education system - especially teachers and their unions - are the most baffling.
First, the news was that teachers were striking because they hadn't been paid. Cheques were weeks or months late. Some stories said the government didn't have the money on hand. Others said the payroll systems were simply a mess. Either way, it's bizarre that the state can't get its act together to pay employees.
Then the education minister - a federal post - was whacked. In part, El Tiempo noted, it was because he couldn't get a grip on the job. After two years, he still hadn't been able to establish how many teachers were actually employed.
That suggests one reason people weren't being paid. But the converse was apparently true; a 2011 audit found 3,448 'ghost' teachers were getting paycheques, but couldn't be found in any school.
Then both papers reported widespread corruption in hiring and promotion policies. Education officials were demanding, and getting, $3,000 to $4,000 for teaching places. The right cash payment - or political connections - could jump a candidate ahead of more competent, better qualified applicants, or buy a bump in salary level or better school. Some 18,000 unemployed teachers are looking for work. If you can get a job, the pay is good. Bribery would be appealing, and worth millions to the recipients.
That story is still unfolding.
And of course, it's all against a backdrop of overcrowded, poorly equipped classrooms, some with 90-plus kids from several grades.
I usually try to bring these posts back to B.C. This one is a little harder.
But there is one thing in common. Despite the problems like not being paid regularly, people are lining up to be teachers in Honduras and paying kickbacks to get jobs.
In B.C., about 1,800 people a year graduate with teaching degrees. Another 800 show up from other provinces hoping for work. But there are only about 1,000 vacancies a year. Despite the long odds, people are trying for teaching jobs and spending years on sub lists. (And if bribery were possible, I expect jobs would go for a tidy sum)
Which is bad news for the BCTF. It's hard to argue wages are uncompetitive when there are almost three applicants for every job, with the number increasing every year. Many, of course, just love the idea of teaching. Many like the pay - $40,000 to start, $80,000 at the top end - and the long holidays.
But unless the union wants to argue the profession is attracting second-rate candidates, it's hard to see a case for big wage increases when prospective employees are delighted with the current conditions.

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