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Opinions of Thursday, 23 August 2018

Columnist: By Peter Partey Anti

The economics of teacher licensing

File photo of a teacher writing on a board File photo of a teacher writing on a board

“It was found that while teachers saw themselves as professionals, they did not think that teaching in Ghana qualified as a full-fledged profession. This apparent ‘paradox of contradiction’ is vital knowledge for understanding individual actions by teachers and their attitude to collective actions by teacher organisations such as the Ghana National Association of Teachers and the National Association of Graduate Teachers” (Cobbold, 2015).

The challenge of professional identity that has bedeviled the teaching profession in Ghana seems to be one of the basis for the setting up of the National Teaching Council (NTC) under the Education Act 778. According to Act 778, the NTC shall be responsible for the licensing, registration and employment of teachers. Act 778 was passed in 2008 and therefore it’s been almost ten (10) since the passing into law the need to license and register teachers. It is therefore refreshing that the council is putting measures in place to start a national teacher’s licensing regime. It must be indicated that, teacher licensing is not something new in the educational sector worldwide.

In most advanced countries, it is difficult to secure a teaching job both in the public and the private sector without possessing the requisite teaching license. It is important to specify that, possessing a degree in education does not automatically make one a teacher in most advanced countries. Comparing it to the law and medical professions, the teacher is supposed to possess a license that qualifies him to teach in any educational institution.

Even though some sections of civil society including IFEST have had issues with the licensing process adopted, there is a general consensus on the need to start a teacher licensing regime in Ghana.

The decision by the NTC and by extension the Ministry of Education to pursue a licensing regime for Ghanaian teachers, to me, is purely an economic decision. It is an economic decision that will go a long way to impact the teaching profession positively and soar the teachers’ reputation and standards in the labour market. The provision and hiring of teachers in every labour market lend itself to the forces of demand and supply with the government being the largest employer.

This means that most professionals enter into working contracts with government spearheaded by their professional organisations or associations.

In the teacher front, the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), Concerned Teachers Association etc are some of the teacher unions which supply teacher labour to government and therefore bargain with government on behalf of their members.

However, at any point in time, certain factors will determine the demand for teachers. These include the number of schools, the number of students enrolled in schools, policies pertaining to curriculum and teacher-pupil ratios, prior commitments to employed teachers, educational agencies funding capacity, and the prices that must be paid for various types and quality of teachers among others.

Preferably, the demand for a teacher by the government (Ministry of Education) should be specified by the attributes of teachers desired, especially teacher qualifications which comprises their training, degree level, licensure, and experience. That is, practically, wage differentials would be informed by the specific attributes of the teachers demanded by the employer.

In every labour market, the forces of demand and supply interplay to fix the market wage and in instances where demand for the services of a particular profession exceeds the supply of the people ready, licensed and qualified to provide that service, there is an upsurge in the market value of such profession.

This is one of the determining factors for the kind of remuneration paid in the labour market. For example, a shortage in the supply of licensed teachers would ideally lead to improvement in the remuneration for a licensed teacher, ceteris paribus, rendering them “hot cake” in the labour market.

This suggests that licensing teachers is supposed to impact on their market value because it is supposed to regulate the level of entry into the profession. That is, one cannot hold himself/herself out as a teacher without going through the requisite licensing process and a group of teachers with the requisite qualification and duly licensed by the NTC should have a higher market value in the labour market as compared to those who have not been licensed, ceteris paribus.

This notion is ingrained in the concept of signalling in information economics. Signalling is the idea that a person (prospective employee) credibly conveys some information about himself/herself to another person (prospective employer).

It is a known fact that the teacher labour market cuts across both the private and the public sectors. In the public sector, a union of licensed teachers conveys a stronger signal to the prospective employer than a union of unlicensed teachers. In the private sector, a licensed teacher conveys an additional information to the prospective employer on his/her level of professionalism which will enable him/her to bargain effectively his/her remuneration as compared to an unlicensed teacher.

This scenario is what plays out with the categorization of teachers into trained and untrained or professional and unprofessional but licensing takes it up a notch higher.

The fact is, according to Spence (1973), when employers are faced with information asymmetry and uncertainty, they tend to turn to statistical reasoning and to rely on easily observable signals, that are expected to provide reliable information on the true quality of candidates.

Using the job signalling model allows an employer to make clear predictions in relation to the choices that he/she will make in the context of uncertainty. Since the 1970s, a large number of empirical studies have shown that signalling plays an immensely important role in recruiting. This explains the need for a teacher to have a professional license to be able to distinguish himself/herself from others who “pretend” to be teachers in the labour market.

This is the more reason why teachers in Ghana should welcome the licensing regime and ride on its positive impact to professionalise teaching in Ghana.

When fully operational, a teacher licensing regime in Ghana will help regulate the entry and exit processes in the profession, maintain a high standard of professionalism which will translate into delivery of quality teaching during instructional sessions and also lead to a positive surge in the public perception of the profession. A perfect signal for bargaining in the labour market.

The teaching profession over the years has served as a stepping stone for most people in the labour market. The Bachelor of Education programme has also served as an avenue for people to gain admission into tertiary institutions who have no intention of pursuing a teaching career at the end of the day. These people have found themselves in other professions after graduation.

There have been others who do not have a Bachelor’s degree in Education but find themselves in the classroom teaching. This identity crisis of the teaching profession has had a tremendous impact on the market value of the profession. Introducing a teacher licensing regime is one major step to soaring up the market value of the teacher and a further step to professionalise the profession.

Finally, it is imperative for the teachers in the country to own this policy, they should work hand-in-hand with the National Teaching Council to implement this policy effectively. It is my fervent wish that, in the not too distant future, the National Teaching Council will be an autonomous institution to enable it to function effectively and efficiently.

For me as an education economist and an education policy analyst, I can predict a far better prospect for teachers with licenses in the near future.