The beauty of any democratic process is that it should enable participatory engagement by the masses; hence as the teaching fraternity, we welcome whatever moment we are given to exercise and celebrate our participatory engagement. The strength of our democracy lies within us the people-the teaching profession is central to the decolonization of the mind and educating the nation-state for the production of conscious and vibrant citizens. Therefore the importance of teachers in the democratic process cannot be overemphasized. It has become customary that every first week of June each year, teachers of this Republic gather together in celebratory mood in respect of this very important day which affords them the opportunity to reflect on their successes, strengths, opportunities, pains, frustrations and even their vision. This day also gives teachers an opportunity to rethink strategies necessary for engaging with the employer in a discourse which could help us both to be of better service to our democracy.
Since 1996, teachers have been celebrating this day, with a view to promote the status and integrity of the teaching profession. Remember that World Teachers’ Day is celebrated on the 5th October. However, we celebrate it in June, because it conceded with PSLE, JC, and BGCSE. The government granted the first Thursday of June for such a celebration.
However, history has registered that it became clear that Thursday was not ideal for celebrations as members returned to work on Friday exhausted and could not effectively deliver on the teaching mandate. As a way of trying to address the teachers’ concerns, the MOESD moved the celebrations to Saturday. This further perpetuated the animosity and differences more so Saturday is a rest day for teachers. Hence it is against this background that as teacher unions we started to engage the Ministry, proposing for the shift of the celebrations to Friday.
As trade Unions we differed with the Ministry on the bases that Saturday is a rest day for workers. We proposed for compensation but the Ministry could not marry our proposal. It is against this that the 2008 BTU Moiyabana conference of delegates resolved to boycott the Teacher’s Day activities starting from 2009 until the Ministry of education succumbs to our proposal to shift the day to Friday. Last year (2011) BOSETU also resolved to boycott the celebrations for the same reason. Today we stand here gloriously celebrating the day following the reasonable action by the Ministry of Education and Skills Development to shift the day to Friday. On that score, we commend the Ministry of Education and Skills Development for adhering to our plea. That is the beauty of diversity in a democracy-that we can have differences but those differences should not be perceived as actions of rebellion or insubordination. We appreciate the rational action taken by the MOESD in this regard.
The Theme of this year’s teacher’s day is quite juicy and interesting; “Teacher: The Key Driver in the Development of a Globally Competitive Human Resource.” Good as the theme sounds, the problematic is the million dollar question on whether us here in Botswana can really be robustly involved in the development of globally competitive human resource in the midst of the calamity of low morale in the teaching service? For so long the conditions of teacher’s service in our democracy have been catastrophic and my advice is that for us to board the globalization train-we ought to start by learning how to ride a bicycle properly at home. Teachers are indisputably the anchors or key of any nation-states’ labour force-however, a key that is rusty cannot unlock doors to the prosperity of the nation; we need better conditions in order to ameliorate the current pathetic state of affairs. We have confidence in the Ministry and the state in general that in order to move this democracy to the promised land- they ought to usher in better services which will rejuvenate the status of teachers who are the key to the socio-economic and political development of our democracy. Our plea is just as simple as that and we are not calling for awkward or unachievable task such as pulling Jesus back to the earth-we are simply saying that we ought to be given the due dignity we deserve as the keys to the production of pronounced and energetic labour and competitive human resource.
Ladies and gentlemen, comrades-in order for the teaching profession to produce or be joined by quality teachers, we need to establish the Teaching Council. This council will regulate the employment and conduct of teachers. We as a Trade Union do not condone unprofessional and/or bizarre unethical characters in the teaching profession. The logic is simple, we deal with students and as such our behaviours should portray a sense of good citizenship and exemplary parental attitude. Therefore, it is imperative that whatever we do or say should be in line with professional ethics of the profession.
At some stage in 2008, the employer (TSM by then) with Teacher Unions started working towards registering the council. The exercise was at an advanced stage, bench marking trips to Scotland and South Africa were even undertaken. Unfortunately this was abandoned under dubious circumstances and no reasons were advanced to the Unions. I want to plead with the Ministry to expeditiously resurrect the noble idea of registering the Teaching Council with the foresight that there can never be teachers of good quality without professional monitoring and regulating mechanisms of good quality. Ethics is the key art of morals which has to be held in all uprightness if at all the teaching profession is to forge forward productively. The depressing and disheartening professional standing of teachers needs modalities to be put in place expeditiously.
As we celebrate today with the awards winning teachers, we cordially remind the employer to uplift and revamp the fading status, integrity and the dignity of the teaching profession. To all our comrades-teachers who have been recognized for diligent and excellent service, I commend you in your well-deserved awards and I would like to urge you to continue rendering your services to the nation and contributing towards the shaping of the modern generation and many more to come. We salute you in a spirit of solidarity and comradeship-congratulations!
Comrades, Ladies and gentlemen, I am pretty much aware of the fact that today is not a day for negotiations with the employer. However, I will be failing in my duties if I do not plead with the MOESD to address the long pending and worrisome issues affecting the teaching profession. We are still at pains as a result of the issues such as levels of operation, hours of work, accommodation etc whose repercussions on our delivery of service have been unpleasing. The previous results of PSLE, JC or BGCSE are a leaving testimony that things are not well in the profession and my bet is that solutions to such matters could be sought provided we both engage one another in a spirit of goodwill, fair engagement and good faith without looking at ourselves as enemies.
Logical reasoning has to drive our course and I am convinced that together we can overcome any hurdles before us. The duty of the MOESD and us teachers is to adhere to the principle of commitment to the students and as such we can better serve the students if we promote healthy attitudes amongst teachers pertaining to service delivery and our general social responsibility towards the profession and our democracy. Our united effort will undoubtedly move the teaching profession to greater heights and also rebrand the picture of the MOESD which to date appears to be getting gloomy given the fact that the ministry is seen in the public domain as a ministry of issues which never cease. So the time to act is now and I do appreciate the little efforts that the MOESD is making in trying to attend to some of this nagging issues. However, let me call upon the employer to accelerate the pace at which some of these issues are given attention.
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, comrades and my fellow democrats, Botswana is a nation we pledge to continue serving with vigour and diligence. Our intention has never been to drag this country to shambles nor do we have any intentions of dragging the teaching profession into muddy waters. As responsible and mature citizens, we understand that the future of this democracy is in our hands and that we have to build it jealously knowing that future generations are to benefit from our footsteps.
As I have often indicated before at different fronts; Unions are not enemies of our democracy and even today as we mark this day, I would like to reiterate the same statement that we are not enemies of our democracy. If anything, we are humble compatriots of the democratic process who just need to be taken seriously and have subverting factors restraining our performance given the due attention they deserve. The process of globalization compels us as a nation to rethink our strategies to all our socio-economic and political spheres if at all we are to produce competent and efficient human resource. The power that education has in transforming societies and communities cannot be undermined-therefore it is time that we continue building partnerships which will better serve our nation.
As Martin Luther King Junior has said; oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever, I am therefore convinced that our employer and the state at large will help catapult the change process we so desperately need in reshaping the teaching profession. Together we shall overcome-HAPPY TEACHER’S DAY-GREAT DAYS ARE AHEAD!!
*Mapolelo is the President of Botswana Teachers Union