Friday, September 25, 2020

MoE and teacher trade unions need to start afresh

We want to use the opportunity of the National Teachers Day, which was commemorated this week, to call on teachers and the Ministry of Education to seriously consider finding common ground.

Botswana education system has suffered gravely as a result of the many years of standoff between Government, represented by the Ministry of Education on one hand, and the teachers, represented by various trade unions on the other.

There are always new issues cropping up. And this happening even before the old and long standing matters could be resolved. The conditions are hardly conducive for the evolvement of a proper education system that can produce future leaders that could be expected to take this country to new heights.

Before we call on the two parties to amicably resolve their differences, we want to remind each of them just how serious, how far reaching and enduring the damage to the system has been. Fixing the system will not be easy.

We want to point out that the education system is literally the cradle of all human development, not to mention that other ministries feed from it.

Human resources that man the developmental goals of the nation are the products of the same system.
A collapse of the education system, which is the epicenter of all developments naturally leads to the crumble of the entire edifice.

Listening to them, if either of the belligerents is to be taken at face value, they are in it for the learners. Listening to both of them leaves one with a clear conclusion that a deal, or should we say, a ceasefire is thus not out of reach.

We have looked at the quality of people involved, both at ministry level as well as at the leadership of trade union levels.

Our conclusion is that either side has in it men and women of substance who do not have to be told what is at stake. Their love for their country is irreproachable.

More importantly, we think that an ability and willingness to set aside the brinkmanship, grandstanding and posturing that has so far characterized the negotiations on all the matters ever discussed would go a long way in reducing the levels of tension between the parties.

Starting at the ministry level, all we can say is that the leadership on that she should show more honesty and sincerity in their dealings with teacher trade unions. It is very important that in their negotiations, the ministry avoids an attitude that because they represent government, who is the stronger of the two, they therefore have the license to be arrogant, patronizing and condescending in their treatment of the teaching leadership.

Modesty and humility can go a long way in restoring faith and respect on one another.
We realize that negotiations have often been characterized by arrogance and lack of respect for one another. One does not have to humiliate the other to make their point known. In fact, points, politely but firmly expressed, are often the ones that win the day.

We have, in the past, noted with dismay that negotiations were derailed because sensitive
information was prematurely leaked. More often than not, the culprit has been the trade unions.
That is despicable, not least because it does little to build trust and relationships which we want to point out are key to come out of the abyss into which the two parties find themselves.

We want to implore trade union leaders to respect the sensitivity and sanctity of information passed to them by government in trust and in confidence in their capacity as leaders of trade unions. When there are disagreements, as there will be in any situation, we advise unions to communicate those disagreements to their constituency in a measured and responsible language that would not belittle the other side, which we are afraid, can only result in the hardening of attitudes as well as entrenching positions.

Government protocol insists on consultation. While the Minister of Education is no doubt the political head of the ministry, it is important for trade unions to appreciate the fact that there are certain decisions she cannot make at the negotiating table without first consulting her cabinet colleagues, most notably the president.

This is a fundamental tenet in government operations and there is no way it can be circumvented.
The minister, for her part should also not make impressions that she can spontaneously take decisions that she knows she cannot keep. Doing so can only undermine her integrity in the eyes of the teacher representatives. As all would know, ministers report to the president, and it is only the Head of State who has the powers to make decisions on the spot as ultimately the buck stops with him.

Finally, we call on teacher trade unions and the Ministry of Education to start on a clean slate. Only when they do that can they both regain the trust of Batswana, which, we want to point out, has been badly damaged.

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