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Opinions of Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Columnist: Isaac Newton Bortey

Occupational licensing: Does highly qualified mean highly effective?

Around the globe, occupational licensing is extensive and growing. In some jurisdictions practitioners have lobbied and pushed for licensing of their occupation.

And in other cases, governments have imposed regulations on some occupation to reconcile special interest of practitioners and those of society.

To those new to the concept of occupational licensing – it is the process by which governments establish standard qualifications required to practice a trade or profession so that only those licensed are allowed by law to receive work and get paid for doing work in the occupation. It is also useful to contrast occupational licensing with certification.

A certification permits an individual to perform a task after she/he has passed a set of examinations. In the case of occupational licensing, it is illegal and punishable by law for anyone to perform a task in an occupation he has no license. In terms of requirements, certification pales in comparison to licensing. The latter is the focus of this op-ed.

Effects of occupational licensing

The effects of licensure – the strictest form of regulation – have often been mixed. From an economics point of view, occupational licensing serves as a barrier to entry, thereby driving up the price of labour.

The supply of labour into these occupations is limited by the license, hence shooting up the wage of labour in these professions. It tends out to be that the very public who are to be protected by the license have to pay higher price for such protection. So why do states continue to support licensing if it comes at a net cost to the general public?

The argument of the regulating body has often been that, licensing protects the public from incompetent practitioners, charlatans, quacks and the likes. The rationale for the licensing is that it protects the health and safety of consumers and also ensure a sufficiently high level of product or service quality. In sum, with a license, a consumer is able to determine who is qualified to render a service or provide a product with an expectation of a high professional and quality standard.

The case of Teacher Licensing in Ghana

Licensing of occupation is not new in Ghana. Certain occupations like doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses and midwifery among others require licenses to operate. The journey to this “right to operate” have often been long, burdensome and sometimes costive, both to the state and individual.

When the National Teachers Council (NTC) of the Ministry of Education made public its plans to introduce teaching license in Ghana, it was met with sharp criticisms and opposition from teachers who were already in the profession. Surprise? No. Times beyond many, craftsmen who sees licensing as a threat to their means of livelihood have dissented the regulation. As such, it was no surprise when the barrage of opposition came in.

So, in plain English, the policy says “pass an exam and you become qualified”. Simple. According to the NTC the policy is aimed at enforcing discipline and to weed-out non-performing teachers from the system.I see this as a step in the right direction to strengthen our educational system. But the NTC must also ensure that those who become teachers not only memorize or know education theories, but also can show the ability to handle students of diverse abilities and needs. This may have led to the need to fulfil some requirements to have a license renewed. So, what are these requirements?

The NTC stated that renewal of the license would be contingent on factors such as the teacher upgrading her/his skills in the subject been thought. That is fairly understandable.It is only intuitive that teachers need to be well-versed in the subjects they teach. It further mentioned that teachers whose students continue to fail in examinations like BECE, WASSCE and other local examinations would not have their license renewed. This is questionable. Why should a teacher placed in a poorly resourced school be penalized for poor student results? Isn’t the correlation expected anyway?

In fact, Does the burden of students passing their exams hinge entirely on the effort of the teacher? Certainly not. There are numerable challenges that have hindered and continues to hinder the success of these teachers in their job. Until these challenges are resolved it will be unfair to tie renewal of their license to the success rate of students in an exam.

A major general concern about the teacher licensing policy is that, the educational system in Ghana faces numerous challenges. And licensing is the least to think about. Many schools are still under trees, poor teacher-student ratio, lack of ICT facilities and teaching materials (we’ve heard of schools begging for chalk, computer mouse demonstrated with stones). Wouldn’t it be fair to fix these structural problems before introducing a higher regulation? Well, should we continue to keep our educational system lousy with incompetent, sub-standard and non-committed teachers while we wait to fix our structural problems? An equilibrium is needed.

You may espouse sympathy towards those to be affected by this license. But let’s face truth, some teachers have shown poor work ethics like absenteeism and shirking of duties. If you ever attended a public school popularly known as “Saito” you will recall the numerous times your teacher is either absent or present but minding her/his private business during legal working hours.

If as a country we agree nem con that education is key to our development, then this can’t continue. Our teachers have to exhibit higher standards in their profession to churn out quality citizens for the future. But like any other adjustment to equilibrium, the other side of the lever must also swing.

The Ministry of education needs to hasten in its approach to solving the structural problems within the system. Teaching must be conducted in a decent classroom, resources to facilitate teaching must not be of short supply, good remuneration for teachers (I should believe this has left the pipeline and already flowing). It’s only a matter of equity for one to be in a good working condition if she/he is expected to be highly qualified to practice a profession.

Rollback, prior to this new licensing policy which is to take effect next year, to be a teacher in Ghana was quite straight forward. Enroll and complete a teacher training college. Voila! You are a qualified teacher. And you get posted by the Ministry of Education to a school where you start your teaching career. We have had this system in place for a long time, we’ve seen the good and bad. As a country, we look determined to make progress, hence the introduction of licensing. The Ministry has laid out its steps to implement this policy, or we fear it will be done piecemeal?

As stated earlier, licensing is not new in Ghana, so why the fret, confusion and opposition. If nothing at all, we have licensed doctors, licensed nurses, licensed engineers, licensed lawyers providing services to the general public. So be rest assured, license is a ‘homie’ he knows Ghana too well. But hey, pause, think of it, does a license which tends to imply highly qualified mean highly effective? You be the judge.

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