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Opinions of Thursday, 5 October 2017

Columnist: Divine Komla Kpe

Teaching in freedom, empowering teachers

Divine Komla Kpe Divine Komla Kpe

John C. Maxwell is widely quoted as saying, “No organization can rise above the constraints of its leadership.” Similarly, Ellen G. White noted, “A church will not rise above the spirituality of its leader.” In the same way, no nation can rise above the quality of teachers it has. Teachers remain the pivot on which education revolves and nations that prioritize education do not leave out the development of their teachers. An instance is the Teaching for America’s Future (1996). To reform America’s school, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future recognized the need to empower teachers. Their report made the following points:

- What teachers know and can do is the most important influence on what students learn.

- Recruiting, preparing, and retaining good teachers is the central strategy for improving our schools.

- School reform cannot succeed unless it focuses on creating the conditions under which teachers can teach and teach well.

In some jurisdictions, the call for quality education misses the need to look at the teachers; how they are trained, the conditions they work in, their welfare, and their freedom. However, a nation can get all other things right in their quest to improve education, but if they fail to get it right on the one going to do the teaching, they have misplaced their priority. This is corroborated by reports from the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS), Student Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) project, and the University of Texas Schools Project which indicates, “the effect of teaching on student learning is greater than student ethnicity or family income, school attended by student, or class size”

Nations still staggering on the path of development, but are willing to make significant progress in their development must, therefore, treat teachers with priority. It is more reason that the theme for this year’s International Day of Teacher; “Teaching in Freedom, Empowering Teachers” cannot come any other time better than this.

As Ghana joins the world to mark this important day, we must not let the day elapse without doing a serious assessment on how we have truly empowered our teachers and the freedom they teach in. In doing so, we must, first of all, begin from how we train teachers, look at the teaching environment they are posted into, look at how we have resourced them to deliver, and find out the level of freedom they have to work.

The Colleges of Education (CoE) are the main institutions that train teachers for our schools, especially for the basic schools. As a product of one of them, I am not enthused about what and how training goes on there. Our CoE remain one of the most deprived tertiary institutions in the country. The facilities in which trainees are trained are not so different from some secondary school facilities (and even some of the Grade A secondary schools are well resourced than some CoE). In some of the institutions, there are no resource centres or laboratories and for those that have, it is only empty rooms they have and the best is rooms with materials that are outdated or dysfunctional and cannot be used for tuition. Failure to address these challenges will lead to the under training of our teachers and as said earlier, the nation cannot grow above the quality of teachers we have. A nation that undertrains its teachers creates distortion in its education system.

A look at the courses being offered in the CoE cannot be what we need as a country if we are serious about training teachers to train our students to be globally competitive. As a matter of urgency, we need to review the courses to reflect the need of the 21st century. In a recent Facebook post of mine, I wrote, “I'm afraid, looking at the direction at which the world is moving, we [Ghana] won't be able to meet the demand of the world in the next decade if we don't pay critical attention to how we train our teachers in ICT.”

The ICT course in the CoE remains the worst off. At such level, if all trainees are to learn are about the types and parts of the computer, and the basics of MS Word and Excel, I’m genuinely afraid, we are not helping our teachers to help our students to be globally competitive looking at how technology is driving the world. The next decade will require a more IT savvy to be with the students and if the current trend of training continuous, we can’t have well trained teachers to position our children well enough for the world ahead of them. Maybe our thinking is to have teachers who are trained up to the national standard [which we are also missing on] but if that is it, we are missing the point. Let’s begin to rethink on how best we can train our teachers to meet the international demand.

I am not surprised some teachers complete training and complain about their inability to teach some subjects with ICT, Science and Maths being the major ones. The teaching methodologies aren’t right there and we cannot fault the tutors there if they also don’t have the resources to train our teachers.

Trainees’ reading of educational theories in school and writing exams, are not the kind of training we should be giving them today. They must be made to do more research works, come out with innovative teaching methods because we cannot continue using these same old teaching methods in our basic schools. It is obvious that the existing methodologies aren’t working. Let’s help our teachers to develop their own teaching theories and find innovative approaches to teaching the 21st century child. My presentation may seem bias because I’m only talking about the CoE, leaving out the universities that as well train teachers for the nation’s second cycle institutions. Well, I wasn’t trained in a university, but from my research, the situation is no different from what patterns in the CoE.

It also appears we have the penchant to train teachers and get them into any kind of environment to teach. Teachers can’t deliver their best if they are not placed in the right environment. The reason why the employer of the teachers (Government of Ghana) cannot demand more from them is that the government hasn’t given them more. More is only required from those that were given more. Because the government is guilty of not resourcing teachers to deliver, he lacks the moral obligation to supervise and question their outputs.

Some teachers still find themselves teaching under trees, some are in dilapidated structures, some have no basic amenities at where they are, some are in conflict areas and some have to cross rivers without lifejackets to their schools. These situations do not promote teaching in freedom. They are threats to their security. Some also have no or inadequate teaching and learning materials to teach with. How teachers, especially those in the rural areas, teach ICT is no news to us. We heard the recent development of some using stone to demonstrate the use of the computer mouse. These are not empowering them.

The average teacher’s salary is $10 per day. This and other reasons are accounting for our loss of teachers from the sector. As UNESCO projected 2025 as the year by which we can finish dealing with the teacher deficit, we may not meet that deadline if we don’t take steps to improve teachers’ condition in order to retain them in the service.

The lip services our leaders have paid to education is deafening and we as citizens must demand more from them. Without that, the existence of these undermine empowering teachers and promoting their teaching in freedom.

Let me cross our borders and advise all nations to put in more effort for the world to solve its teacher deficit by the targeted year, 2030. Currently, the world needs 3.4 million more teachers to ensure that every child has a teacher to be with him/her in class. No sacrifice by any nation to help every child has access to a teacher is too great to offer.

To the United Nations. If we want to make speedy progress on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, then we must see teachers as one of the most powerful tools to use. The younger generation needs to know what we are up for in making the planet a safer place for us. Without the involvement of the younger generation, we cannot sustain the gains we may have made on the SDGs.

Teachers can help us educate our children on the war the world is fighting against the ills that have faced the human race. The children’s understanding of this will call for their actions and even after 2030, when they grow to be active Global Citizens, they will see the need to continue playing roles that will sustain the successes we would have chalked. That is why it is sad when a good number of teachers have little or no knowledge about the SDGs in order to help equip the children. We need the teachers in this noble course and we must bring them onboard as primary agents.

Finally, let me draw the attention of my fellow teachers in Ghana to this fact as revealed by UNESCO. According to UNESCO, "The average Time on Task in Ghana [Ghanaian schools] is around 39%." It Implies 61% of the time in school is spent on non-learning activities. This revelation is disgraceful and should warrant our commitments to good use of instructional hours. I know we can do more than what we are doing. Let us give our best for the sake of the children entrusted in our hands.

Ayeekooo to all teachers in the world; who are bringing hope to many children.

Divine Komla Kpe

The writer is a multiple award-winning teacher, Founder and Leader of Every Child Along (a community centered organization that seeks to promote literacy in rural communities).

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