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Feature Article of Monday, 28 May 2012

Columnist: Zubeviel Thomas

Ghanaian Teachers Deserve Better

Since independence in 1957 and even before, governments in Ghana have sought to design and implement innovations aimed an educational system that is more relevant to the individual as well as accomplish broader national aspirations. Stephen Tonah documents three major educational reform initiatives: in 1961, 1967 and 1987 and numerous reviews: in 1966, 1974, 1993 and 2002 since independence in 1957. Nevertheless, he points out that “an ideal education system for Ghana has, however, remained [elusive]”. As it stands, Ghana has more evidence to show for a raft of reform initiatives than the impact of those innovations despite moderate gains in most sectors of our education system.
It will be argued that there is the need to re-think education reforms by focusing on building the image of the Ghanaian teacher and placing him/her at the centre of the teach-learn or knowledge co-construction enterprise. It will be posited however that this will not be an event or take the course of a political term of office but some number of years to yield meaningful fruits. This will demand absolute commitment to the course and attitude towards teachers as exemplified by this reported negotiation between the Head teacher of Nandom Senior High School and the Regional Education Directorate. This head teacher had gone to negotiate for staff bungalows for his school and was asked why he needed staff bungalows rather than classrooms because the high enrolment figures at the time suggested the need for the later. He is reported to have suggested that he would prefer his staff be more comfortable and come to teach his students under trees rather than live is squalor and come to teach students in state of the art classrooms. Probably this is an extreme stance but the message is clear. Teachers’ dignity matter!
The image of the Ghanaian teacher does not reflect an attitude of a country that is concerned about quality education neither does it a nation that is serious and sensitive to the needs of future generations. To publicly admit that you are a teacher in Ghana is akin to admitting you suffer from a socially abominable and shameful scourge. The image of the Ghanaian nurse had been like this despite the selfless service they render in communities until recently when that tag was removed through improved conditions of service, albeit moderate. Secondary school graduates who had previously scorned Nurses Training Colleges stampeded for admissions into these same institutions while some who had gained admission into Teacher Training Colleges or were qualified teachers left for Nurses Training Colleges. That has changed to an extent how people regard nurses and other health service professionals today. The condition of the Ghanaian nurse may not have improved but at least people perceive them as such and give them due respect as human beings which has the potential to motivate and instil self-confidence in them - high reputation being an indicator of job satisfaction too; however the question still remain if nurses prefer this good image to a battered one with better conditions or both battered and bitter conditions as is the case for teachers. Teachers can only cling on to the notions of a ‘noble profession’ and face saving taunts of having ‘taught all professionals’. As to whether these self-imposed accolades and appellations sit well in the hearts of teachers as they sound to the ear falls within the ambit of teachers’ emotional engagement with their job.
Currently, the Finnish education system is by far the best in the world and has attracted the attention of many ‘education’ tourists who seek to examine what underpins the success story. It is not my intention to suggest a direct ‘parachuting’ of policy and practice from this context to ours; rather, it is recommended that there are valuable lessons we can draw from their system in relation to teachers’ education and the general improvement in the status and dignity of the Ghanaian teacher.
Unlike Ghana and indeed many parts of the world, teachers in Finland are highly regarded professionals just like medical doctors and lawyers. With a population of just over five million, Finland has eight universities for teacher education with the same high academic standards. Furthermore, a research-based master’s degree is the minimum requirement to teach in Finland. This is not to say the current requirement for teaching in Ghana is bad. Indeed, most students in Ghana will confess that the best lesson they had in school where taught by teacher trainees on internship or newly posted teachers who had little practical experience. What is intended here is that the current situation where we have a little over 50% per cent qualified teachers is as appalling as having less than just two universities training teachers for a country of over 25 million people. It is also sad that there are so many untrained teachers in our basic schools where the foundation for learning needs to be laid properly. In a bid to augment the teacher population, national service personnel or senior high school graduates now teach at the basic level. This is welcome innovation but not the best to have if, as a country, we are serious about quality education.
It is on record that the University of Helsinki, received 2,300 applicants this spring for 120 spots in its primary school teacher education program. This only shows how much teaching is desired as a profession in Finland compared to Ghana where the teacher training colleges have become alternatives for students who do not make it to the university or nurses training colleges or for some students who use it as a spring board because they cannot afford other “better alternatives” and indeed many people become teachers not by default but by fault and thus continue to yearn for ‘better days’ till retirement. In most of the teacher education programs in Finland, teachers are prepared to design their own curricula, assess their own pupils’ progress, and continuously improve their own teaching and their school. To ensure that teachers in Ghana are better placed to deliver the kind of education we need, there is the imperative to overhaul teacher education, conditions of service and institute an on-going staff and leadership development programme at all levels of the educational system to equip all teachers with the necessary skills and experience. When this is done, teachers will enjoy similar prestige, public confidence and autonomy which will translate automatically to better conditions of service for all teachers. Above all, teachers can be trusted to deliver educational services just like other professionals do. It is not the case that teachers in Finland teach better or differently from teachers elsewhere or that students spend more time learning or even that teaching and learning go on in the most technologically advanced classrooms. Compared to Ghana; yes, teaching and learning resources may be better, nevertheless teaching and learning is similar to what pertains elsewhere in the world.
If within the present state of a battered imagine and inhuman treatment coupled with limited resources, the Ghanaian teacher is able to train most of the professionals for all sectors of our national life and churn out students who are able to be competitive in all parts of the world in every sphere of life; it not difficult to imagine the impact if the situation had been better. Policies that seek to provide free education from pre-school to university, free text books and uniforms, capitation grant, school feeding, remove all schools under baobab and odum trees are all in order and should be vigorously pursued. However this will come to nothing if there are no teachers to arrange learning experiences and partner knowledge construction!!!

Zubeviel Thomas
tiervella@yahoo.co.uk
Manchester, UK

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