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Opinions of Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Columnist: Agyemang, Katakyie Kwame Opoku

The Plight of the Graduate Teacher in an Era of "Better Ghana" Agenda

Even though successive governments have not relented in their efforts to eradicate illiteracy among Ghanaian citizens, the educational policy of the current government leaves much to be desired. Whilst educational standards have fallen to its lowest, the teacher who happens to be the pivot around which education reforms revolve has been neglected to the background. As an educationist, and victim, I feel quite embarrassed about the plight of the Ghanaian teacher today, hence my determination to expose the rot.

Since August 20, 2013, the Director-General of Ghana Education Service (GES), on the instruction of the NDC government, has placed a ban on teacher recruitment in all public schools. Surprisingly, this ban has come at a time that Ghana's basic and secondary education levels are faced with 60,000 teacher deficit. Apart from the ban, the government, through the GES, has terminated the appointments of all Non-Professional Teachers (Pupil Teachers) in the education service. As if the government is unaware of the role of the teacher, the GES had also refused to re-engage teachers who left the profession for further studies to fill the gaps. Besides, graduates from the University of Education, Winneba, University of Cape Coast, and private Colleges of Education in the country cannot access teaching due to the embargo. Whilst these graduates are at home adding up to the number of unemployed graduates, fresh admissions are being made every year by the above-mentioned tertiary institutions with the view to producing more graduate teachers in the country. This situation seriously undermines Prez Mahama's quest to build 200 Community Secondary Schools by 2016. In the face of all these, not a single word had come from such teacher unions as GNAT, NAGRAT, and CCT.

In fact, one may agree with the government on its determination to ensure quality education by getting rid of unqualified personnel in the teaching service. But, a greater circumspection is needed in the pursuit of such exercise. This is because the teaching profession has more or less become a safe-haven for many young graduates who never attended any of the country's Colleges of Education. It would therefore be appropriate for such category of teachers to be assisted to do Access Programme in order to be integrated into the profession. This, I believe, will go a long way in beefing up the teacher population in the country.

A year ago, I had the chance to interact with the then Director-General of GES, Ms. Naana Biney on the ban issue. She revealed that the GES payroll was bloated with ghost names, hence the freeze on teacher recruitment by her outfit. She promised to lift the ban after 3 months, but it is over a year now and there is no sign of the ban being lifted. I have consistently called the Acting Director-General of GES, Mr. Charles Aheto-Tsegah to know the status of the embargo, but he has not bothered to pick any of my calls. At the current pass rate of 28% by WASSCE candidates, and with most classrooms in the villages being without qualified teachers, one would expect the government to have a second thought about such policy directive. But, this is the 'listening' government Ghanaians voted into power in 2012.

For the past decade, the general public has been skeptical about the quality of products that are churned out of our schools. Therefore, any action that tends to deny the child access to quality teaching would automatically trigger public anger. Since the late 1960s, the government of Ghana has been assisting trainee teachers financially through the teacher trainee allowances and study leave with pay for teachers. The purpose of this educational package was not only to attract quality personnel into the teaching service, but also, to improve the teachers' professional competence. Unfortunately, in 2013 under Mahama-led NDC government, the teacher trainee allowance in the Colleges of Education has been scrapped whilst several restrictions have been put on the study leave with pay. This 'killer' policy has put so much financial strain on teacher trainees, especially students from the rural areas. Also, for close to two years, some newly-trained teachers who have been at post were given only 3 months salary. The remaining 21 months accumulated salary cannot be traced. The series of demonstrations and strikes by teacher unions go to underscore the plight of the Ghanaian teacher in the era of a 'Better Ghana' agenda.

Again, readers would agree with me that most educational policies introduced by the P/NDC government have not inured to the benefit of the Ghanaian child. In 1987 for instance, a new education reform (JHS/SHS concept) was introduced without the needed resources to achieve its purpose. As a result, the education of over 100,000 graduates from the country's then Middle Schools came to a halt. Also in 1993, the academic calendar of the country's public universities was delayed for a year because of the strike action embarked upon by the university lecturers (UTAG). Besides, in 2009, the NDC's priority under a whole former university lecturer, Prez John Mills was to reverse the SHS duration from 4 to 3 years. In the heat of the 2012 general election, a proposal by the NPP to make secondary education free for the Ghanaian child was pooh-poohed by Prez Mahama, who incidentally had enjoyed free education in his entire life. Today, the teacher's take home pay cannot take him home; his salary arrears cannot be paid; and his Tier 2 Pension Pay has been misapplied. The two-week strike action by 12 labour unions is a living testimony of the situation at hand.

In winding down, I would appeal to the Acting-Director-General of GES, Charles Aheto-Tsegah, the Minister of Education, Prof. Naana Opoku Agyemang, and the President of Ghana, John Mahama to lift the ban with immediate effect. If the NDC government had been able to pay over GHC800m as judgement debts, including Wayome's GHC51.2m, and distribute laptops to university ladies, I see no reason why the government cannot employ more teachers to teach our own children. If president Mahama could increase his salary from GHC5,000 to GHC12,000 every month, that of MPs and ministers of state from GHC3,000 to GHC7,200, embark on expensive travels, waste money on SUBAH, etc, then I don't think he has any excuse to give. As an oil producing country, coupled with the astronomical taxes being paid by the citizens, not forgetting the external loans from donor countries, Prez Mahama should be in a better position to fix the current educational mess. It's my hope that all educational stakeholders would join in this crusade to pressurize the government to do the right thing. I also expect all the affected teachers to contact me ASAP for further deliberations on this embargo issue.

God bless Ghana! God bless the Ghanaian Teacher!! God bless Kufuor!!!

Katakyie Kwame Opoku Agyemang, Asante Bekwai-Asakyiri. Email: katakyienpp@yahoo.co.uk Mobile: 0547851100 : 0264931361 : 0202471070

"Vision, coupled with persistency, results in true success"