Friday, September 25, 2020

Teachers can make or break the system

Teachers recently resolved that they are not going to participate in extra ÔÇô curricular activities.

They made this loud and clear through consultative structures nation-wide. The consultative meetings were a product of Teacher Unions and Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MOE&SD) consultative meetings. Unions went all out to consult the general teaching fraternity. Apparently there was a lot of doubt in the MOESD corridors that what the unions were presenting was not the position of the teachers. The trade union leaders were shouted down by the teachers and some even threatened to ‘thrash’ them up by accepting to bring such frivolous and unreasonable proposals from the Ministry. The unions were simply reading out the MOE&SD proposal on how to embrace the extra curricula activities in schools. Fortunately, the nationwide consultative meetings were also attended by MOE&SD officials, and therefore they saw and heard it all.

The meetings were characterized by high emotions and teachers made it clear that they were fed up by the way the MOE&SD was treating them. And their position was that they will not participate in extracurricular activities. Extracurricular means doing extra work outside the one you are reasonably employed for and it is usually done after working hours. This should naturally attract remuneration. Since the opening of the first public schools in Botswana, no teacher has ever been paid for working overtime but their counterparts in other government departments have not only enjoyed overtime, but have had far quicker progression opportunities; hassle free further studies; hotel accommodation, etc while teachers slept in classrooms on desk tops and had no imprest for external trips. As a former teacher, coach for athletics, debating club, basketball and table tennis for more than fifteen years, I can attest that teachers are not properly remunerated in comparison to other public service employees. And on reflection, one radiates with pride on the positive results and contribution made. This is why teachers were disappointed by the President and other senior government officials who remarked that teachers are unpatriotic. The statement was incorrect and misleading and someone must have misled the President. Teachers sacrifice a lot and telling them that they are greedy, selfish and unpatriotic when they demand remuneration for working long hours will not help improve their morale. The sum effect of it is that teachers have now decided to stop doing extra curricula activities for free. BOSETU wants teachers to be fairly remunerated and to enjoy the fruits of their own labour. Teachers have resolved to see their conditions improved and this includes remuneration for extracurricular activities and no teacher is expected to go against this position as s/he will be undermining the teaching profession. The teaching fraternity is generally unhappy. On the 21 July 2006, while officially opening BTU offices, former President Festus Mogae stated that his “government has aligned the teachers’ conditions and terms of service to those of the rest of the Public Service. As a result there is now virtually no distinction between the types of benefits enjoyed by the rest of the public service vis-a vis those of the teaching service”, Botswana Guardian, August 2006. The former President here was being misled as teachers are still subjected to poor conditions like lack of progression; unpaid overtime; further studies; accommodation crises; etc.

Over 90% of the current sports and club coaches are BOSETU activists and therefore imposing sporting activities in schools will not work. BOSETU is proud of the coaches as they are not only good with extracurricular activities, but are also effective and efficient in the classrooms and as union activists. We advise the government and MOE&SD not to contemplate forcing the extracurricular activities down the teachers’ throats, as nothing will go through. BOSETU has for years been advising government against implementing poorly thought out programmes which also do not have teacher buy in.

The strategy of the MOE&SD to go ahead with extracurricular activities will not take off. This will only further frustrate and demoralize the School heads who are likely to be intimidated and threatened by the government to implement the activities in their respective schools. With teachers having made their positions clear, any attempt to force them will backfire. Immediately after the 2011 public sector strike, numerous School Heads resigned as it was difficult to manage the schools because some of the School Heads were intimidated while others were demoralized by government.

Cabinet should treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves. At the recent meeting at GSSS teachers called upon the Cabinet to resolve the Hours of Work expeditiously, or otherwise they will be patient to wait for them even if it takes ten or more years. They said the same Cabinet took little time to make them Essential Services cadres and therefore Cabinet should employ the same haste and speed. The hours of work issue in fact dates back to May 2010 when it was officially negotiated. This clearly demonstrates that there is no seriousness in Cabinet in resolving this matter. What is further disappointing and disturbing is that there are numerous former teachers who are Cabinet Ministers and we expect them to support educational initiatives that will take it out of the current quagmire.

In November 2009, just after the general elections, the newly appointed Minister of Education, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi promised teacher unions to turn the ministry around and that she will start with an education pitso. She went on to tell the unions that President Ian Khama wanted good results from all the Ministers and poor performers will have to pack their bags home for the nearest home bound bus! With the continuous downward spiral in education results, isn’t it time that the Minister dust her bags for the next Serowe bound buses?

Teacher issues and concerns should be resolved expeditiously as Cabinet Minister Ponatshego Kedikilwe once warned in the 1993 Kedikilwe Commission and the subsequent 1994 Revised National Policy on Education that “Teachers can make or break the system”. Let us help teachers make the system!

*Hunyepa is BOSETU Executive Secretary

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