Thursday, June 13, 2024

All is not lost teachers

In the run up to the Teachers’ Day Celebrations a few weeks back, the media was awash with messages and articles that professed solidarity with the teachers and the teaching profession. The articles, from academics, private sector, political parties, unions and some from teachers themselves were many, impassioned and elaborate, inordinate even.

For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why it was that the Police Service, Defense Force and Prisons Department, all have well-publicized and popularized commemoration days yet pens never bleed their ink that much to try and reassure the officers. For all intents and purposes, the articles served to remind anyone who cared, about the importance and dispensation of free, quality education as a basic human right, the pivotal role teachers play in the society and the integrity of the teaching profession. Some stopped short of eulogies for a dead profession. I think I remembered then that the only time you get to be reminded how important you and your profession are, is when there is no semblance of it left in you. The time you get genuine messages of inspiration is when you are bereft of hope; when you are down-trodden and at the verge of break-down, when you have to pat yourself to ascertain that you are indeed awake and alive. The messages were implicit concessions of that situation ÔÇô the reason why there was such a tirade of messages was because over some time, teachers and the teaching profession suffered abuse at the hands of government, to put it mildly. The articles were reminiscent of the occasions when private media and journalism were under threat.

Things were creeping in slowly until when teachers, through their unions launched a threat to boycott marking of the Final Examinations in 2009 unless wages were increased ÔÇô that was the last straw. So brutal and well-broadcast were the onslaughts that everybody forgot who or what the real casualty was going to be. Parents were unsympathetic to say the least, actually, they reveled at it because they thought those who publicly derided teachers had a cornucopia of education initiatives and remedies that they were going to and dish out from. Sadly, reality turned out in the contrary. The 2011 strike was salt to injury. It culminated in a state where students were also threatening or actually beating up teachers just for the heck of it. The authorities were making the ground ever so fertile for the nasty encounters by constantly denigrating teachers, shrinking their freedom space, punching holes on their sorry egos.

Teachers lost their morale, and teaching lost its peculiarity and integrity, examination results dwindled and the quality of education plummeted woefully. Surprisingly, when worse had become worst, there was still absolute denial that the level of performance in the examinations and quality of education were the primary casualties.

May be it needs to be pointed out that except for Junior Certificate where mark ranges are fixed for the various grades, performance in the exams can be a deceiving indicator as the grades are movable. To zoom into the point with an example, in a year when performance is generally exceptional, a student may score an average of 85% in a subject and obtain Grade A but, in another year when performance is generally dismal a student score an average grade of 55% in the same subject and obtain Grade A. The reality is that the certificates for both students bear a Grade A alongside the subject but the quality of the grade is not the same.

That is why from year to year there would be a marginal deviation of plus or minus one percent even when the marks spell doom. In the context of our country, there was never any exceptional performance. The marks were generally on a steep descent but the grades somewhat comparable; the quality of grades was worsening and so was education.

With little information on the certificates to suggesting the red flag is up, it is presumed that the grades vouch for quality. The grades then become a gate-pass for placement and sponsorship in tertiary institutions. Once in a tertiary institution, one has to prove that they are in standard with the set standards and there is no other principled way around it.

The grades that one came wielding are put to test. A little while ago, we were informed about two major emergent trends involving local students at tertiary level; that deviant behavior was assuming prevalence in tertiary institutions, where the rate of alcoholism and other vices are grotesquely rampant. Secondly, the rate of re-takes and drop-outs resulting from lack of ability to fit in or cope with academic pace were increasing. Some authorities imputed the deviance to poor academic performance at tertiary. The purveyors of the theorem premised their argument on statistics pertaining to the behavior and expediently drew their conclusions. I venture to postulate that the deviance came as a consequence and not as a cause; specifically the result of being a victim of a weak and cracked academic foundation, not fitting in the tertiary and the reality of a bright future ebbing away. Put on that footing, sociologists of deviance will be in consonance.

Actually, the full scale of the ripple effect that the decline in education has had in this country shall come in say 10 years when the current skilled man-power and leaders who are in their fifties are retired and vacuum emerge; there would be gross under-subscription in many areas. The only saving grace is that there are some students from public institutions who can ride against the steep and another number that graduates with private schools. They will lead those who became collateral in the teacher ÔÇô government wars. Parents should have realized that when education depreciates in public schools, the situation gives a head-start to students from private schools.

They may not be magicians who can pull rabbits out of their hats but, the tone of voice that Minister Dow and the two Assistant Ministers, Mr Goya and Mr Autlwetse in the Ministry of Education and Skills Development have so far adopted has been profoundly humbling. Their sentences are not punctuated and riddled with “I’s”, ‘ I this… I that..’ that is inherent with arrogance and political point scoring. The interventions and initiatives that keep trickling in like the council that shall safeguard the integrity of the teaching profession, the restructuring of vocational institutions, the release of teachers when students go out on breaks and a few others, the review of the number of working days for teachers are indicative of a team poised for change and restoration. If the ultimate goal is education relevance then, a review of the various syllabi in schools and the whole curriculum spectrum should make the list because those need to be harmonized, rationalized with resource and put in sync with the global trends. I also hold in high regard their select of competent personal secretaries who are not there to tot briefcases for their masters when they go to officiate but, actually have something to offer as the ministers’ extensions. Restoring good relations between teachers and government is not the only hurdle before the ministers.

I remember back in 2012 when Minister Venson-Moitoi prevailed over the entire Head-quarters because her ministry was getting systematically bled and losing a lot of money. That is another challenge the ministers will have to grapple with. Leakages will have to be sealed at Headquarters. Regions and Sub-Regions were created with the hope that they would increase efficiency and facilitate education delivery in schools. If it still takes an inordinately long time to process an intra-regional swap of teachers then, their efficacy is questionable. What more, it is still the practice for officers in regions to wait until results are out and come down on schools like an avalanche; asking uncomfortable questions they should be answering themselves. Some shake-up is definitely necessary at the Regions.

All I am saying is ‘all is not lost’. While the losses in education cannot be reversed nor compensated for, the relevant ministers have a shimmering opportunity to severe links with loss and act as winches that pull up the ailing ministry.

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