Thursday, September 24, 2020

Venson-Moitoi should prove she is different from predecessors!

Cabinet Ministers delivery results
The new Minister of Education and Skills Development, Ms Pelonomi Venson ÔÇô Moitoi, recently addressed teacher unions. She has currently addressed School Heads and other important stakeholders in education. The level she is doing it is unprecedented and she is really hitting the ground running.

But she has to also devise the means of changing the wheels of her vehicle while it is still running! Otherwise she is heading for a fatal accident experienced by the previous drivers who used the same vehicle!

The Minister said they have been given six months to deliver. Six months down the line, it will be clear whether the newly appointed Cabinet Ministers pass Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s delivery test or not.

The results are probably expected to be out around April 2010, coinciding with the beginning of the government financial year. The public, I presume, would really like to see the results on government enclave notice boards. And those with access to the internet, may propose that Office of the President set up a website Teacher unions would rush to see how their newly appointed Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi has performed.
In the recent meeting, the Minister informed teacher unions that low achievers, or, failures, will be sent home packing together with their luggage! According to the Minister, who had a handful of service delivery related jokes, among those who are likely to be missing on the home bound bus queues, is herself and probably her Assistant, Mr Keletso Rakhudu. The Minister solicited union support for her to successfully deliver in the troubled Ministry.

In fact she made it categorically clear that she will be going nowhere and those junior to her will have to go first if there is anyone going to mother’s home. In other words, those to be fired first are the Permanent Secretaries (PS) and their Directors.

But there will be a ripple effect! The PSs are going to equally threaten Directors, Directors Chief Education Officers; Chief Education Officers, PO 1s; PO 1s School Heads; School Heads their Deputies until the poor teacher is smoked out too! Expect a long meandering queue at the bus rank then and unions will have to see how they handle this when it comes to their membership.

The Minister was accompanied by the Assistant Minister Keletso Rakhudu, the Permanent Secretary and her three Deputies as well the line Directors. The Minister was very articulate and shrewd in her presentation. She easily chose effective adjectives and adverbs to drive her points home. Her shrewdness did not fail to catch BTU Vice President, Pule Ramabya who then told her that if one is not careful, she will run away with their heads.

Most seasoned politicians are shrewd contrivers! I have also been impressed by former Ministers of Education when they addressed BOFESETE then, now Botswana Secondary School Teachers Union (BOSETU) during similar rituals of paying courtesy calls to newly appointed Education Ministers. Minister Dr Gaositwe Chiepe, Hon Ponatshego Kedikilwe, George Kgoroba (may his soul rest in peace), Jacob Nkate and now Venson ÔÇô Moitoi. Their oratory skills have all been amazing and you give them the platform they walk away with the prize! But what teachers want at the end of the day is an improved standard of working and living conditions. Venson-Moitoi’s predecessors have dismally failed on this one.

RNPE- Teachers can break or make the system
Teachers have been very patient with all of the former Ministers. They have always supported the new Ministers. Teachers will be awaiting for the Ministers new initiatives that will improve their working and living conditions.

One of the things that the Minister has to achieve in her six months probation is to sort out the parallel progression saga.

The Revised National Policy on Education (RNPE) will be a very good starting point for the new Minister and I strongly recommend to her to follow it for policy direction. Specifically, section 12 (The Teaching Profession) of RNPE reads: The quality of instruction is one of the most important determinants of the level of learning achievement. Teachers as agents of curriculum implementation are therefore central to the education system and can make or break the system. The enhancement of the status and motivation of teachers to enable them to discharge this role effectively cannot be overemphasized…

Government intends to embark on a number of measures aimed at raising the status and morale of teachers so that they can perform their tasks more effectively. Such measures will include both improved pre-service and in-service training, a package of incentives and improvements in the conditions of service.

Teachers are still awaiting the ‘package of incentives and improvements in the conditions of service’. There is no improvement in this area and the Minister has to roll up her sleeve and create a package of such incentives. Changing the wheels while her car is still running means removing some of her senior officers who have been responsible for the poor status of the teaching profession in general. It’s a dangerous exercise, but the Minister may fail her delivery test if not done.

The Minister should also seriously consider appointing a Coordinator for RNPE. Currently, the RNPE is on auto pilot mode because there are no clear implementation, monitoring and evaluation tools on this policy. The coordinator would definitely have all these sorted out and education will have a clear direction.

Teachers need decent accommodation
The Minister was spot on regarding the issue of accommodation for teachers.

Teachers are in serious distress especially when they are told there is no accommodation. If accommodation is available, teachers are made to share in a very humiliating environment. As mature adults, teachers need dignity, privacy and decent housing.

This will definitely raise their morale as per the policy. If someone thought shared accommodation by adults is not a problem, let us have the Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament sharing at ministerial and parliamentary flats. Your guess is as right as mine!

The Minister should therefore be clear to teachers within six months, on the accommodation issue. In fact, a recommendation on public service salaries on a 15% housing allowance is still pending within the government enclave.

Levels of operation
Another task awaiting the Minister’s speedy attention is the issue of Parallel Progression, especially the Levels of Operation and the back-pays. Teachers in junior schools who have the same qualifications and experience are not allowed to progress up to C1 as their counterparts in senior schools. BOSETU tried in vain many times to have this corrected but the MOE officials have been helpless in addressing the matter.

At one point, at BOSETU Congress in Francistown, Festinah Bakwena, the former Permanent Secretary in MoE&SD, promised that Organisation and Methods will unravel this. But there is absolutely nothing in O & M for teachers’ upward progression. For those who have the rare opportunity of being transferred from junior to senior schools, the Minister will be shocked to learn that they are put on another probation! All these, courtesy of former teachers who are now running the Ministry.

It is frustrating to note that other government departments introduced multiple grading so that cadres can easily progress even to C1 without problems, but TSM is reluctant to do that. Within six months, the Minister can resolve this.

There is a wide disparity of salaries between teachers and other government Ministries and departments. School Heads who are responsible for millions of pulas of resources are extremely underpaid. They supervise 60 to well over 100 employees; manage hundreds to thousands of students, not to mention millions of pulas worth of other government resources they are responsible for and the highest salary scale they can go is a measly D2 for senior schools; D3 junior and D4 primary. And most of them have twenty or more years of teaching experience. An ordinary officer in most other government departments with far less experience and qualifications is paid the same or better than the School Heads. A Private Secretary to the Minister is on D1! The Minister should bring change to the Ministry and address these ridiculously serious anomalies as soon as possible.

Indecisiveness of the Ministry
In response to the Ministers presentation, BOSETU President, Shandulani Hlabano informed the Minister that most of well developed counties pay teachers decent salaries and allowances. Apparently, some former teachers who are now employed at Ministry headquarters do not want teachers to get closer to them salary wise and this has kept teachers at the lowest rung! Hlabano further informed the Minister that her officers are most of the time powerless in making decisions as they either refer MoE&SD issues to Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) or they don’t take decisions at all.

A case in point is the secondment of BOSETU Secretary General to the office, a matter that has been dragging for more than a year now. Other non-education unions have had their union leaders seconded without delays. And the guidelines are clear in the General Orders.

Cancellation of Masters Programme for teachers
When addressing teacher unions, the Minister wondered why there are no teachers with a doctorate at primary schools because these professionals face mind harrowing challenges. TSM has long made a ruling that teachers do not need such qualifications. In fact, TSM went on to scrap off Masters degree programme for secondary school teachers.

Teachers are no longer sent for training in this programme because they are said to be too many and there is no money! Hundreds of teachers are also frustrated because if they don’t meet set standards at University of Botswana, they are doomed. Other government departments in fact send their employees outside the country but the MoE&SD refuse to extend the same to poor teachers.

In fact, other government departments do not send their employees for masters’ degree programme only, but send them outside the country too. I think this one the honourable Minister will not need six months to resolve. This has been unfair to teachers and grossly discriminatory. When resolved, it will be part of the incentives meant for teachers.

Scarce Skills and High Court Cases
Scarce Skills allowance is another issue that has been badly handled at MoE&SD. Up to now, not a single teacher has been paid the allowance! Other government employees have long benefited for more than a year now! Teachers are being tossed from one pillar to another. A number of important subjects have been left out for no clear reason. The TSM has further put some awkward qualifications for teachers in the business subjects.

BOSETU tried all the diplomatic avenues to have scarce skills implemented but to no avail and this is frustrating and demotivating to the teachers. The TSM says it is DPSM and vice versa. The Minister should appreciate that BOSETU usually seeks legal opinions and ultimately court redress under such circumstances (where negotiations have reached a dead end). We hope there will be no hassle when it comes to backdating the payments for scarce skills allowance. BOSETU, (BOFESETE then) had to demonstrate and engage in all forms of civic action for teachers to be paid parallel progression after High Court ruling in late 1990s. Teachers’ justice usually comes from the courts of law and we hope that the Minister will do things differently to turn the tide.

Assistant Minister Rakhudu also expressed worry about bad media publicity and the legal brawls between the Ministry and unions. BOSETU recently won the Invigilation case against TSM, a Department of the MoE&SD. The TSM had vehemently refused BOSETU proposals that invigilation is not teachers’ duty and that if they are engaged, teachers have to be paid. When the talks collapsed, BOSETU took the matter to court and won the matter. There are other serious pending issues that the new Minister has to resolve during her tenure. It should be noted that the manner in which teacher unions are treated is the very reason that prompts them to seek court redress. Delivery will lessen court cases.

Boarding Allowance
The Minister has to revisit the Boarding Allowance for teachers. TSM has made it very difficult for teachers to access. It is only a small select of teachers who are entitled to it. BOSETU had proposed that this should be paid to all teachers who work in a boarding environment. All teachers attend to Boarding students at one point whether they are on duty or off. The environment dictates for that.TSM always come up with some tactics to deny teachers what they are entitled to and this has demoralized and lowered the status of teachers. Within six months, the Minister can have this corrected.

Former teachers in Parliament
Rakhudu is a former teacher and he understands teachers’ issues very well. Other former Assistant Ministers, who were former teachers as well, have disappointed and failed to deliver or change the poor conditions of service of teachers. Rakhudu should therefore help the Minister to turn things around so that they help to enhance the status and morale of teachers.

The Minister will need all the support within the next six months and beyond, of course the first six months being the ones that will help shape her future in the MoE&SD.

As already stated in the RNPE, teachers can make or the break the system. We hope the Minister will deliver teachers from the misery they have been suffering and get them to make the system.

The unions should also be ready to applaud the Minister and her team if there are positive fundamental changes in teacher welfare within six months or even earlier than that. They should equally go for her and seriously get her to account for the lack of improvement. Unions are watch dogs that should bark and bite!

The Minister should now get down to office business.

Thank you

Justin C. Hunyepa
Executive Secretary (BOSETU)


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