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Opinions of Saturday, 21 April 2012

Columnist: Amoah, Anthony Kwaku

When Teachers Abandon Classrooms For Electoral Assignments

By Anthony Kwaku Amoah

“The Electoral Commission must appreciate the fact that taking teachers out of the classroom for this exercise will only disadvantage pupils and students in the various schools which we believe the Ghana Education Service will not entertain”- stated Unemployed Graduates Association of Ghana (UGAG) prior to the start of the on-going Biometric Voter Registration.

Records have it that Ghana’s success story of having witnessed free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections since 1992 could not be wholly told without the mention of the teacher.

Apart from sensitizing eligible students to get registered to be able to vote or be voted for in future elections, teachers, over the years, have been used in many other electoral exercises. In voter registration exercises, teachers are used. During elections, one would meet the teacher at a polling station as polling assistant, presiding officer or a returning officer, depending on one’s working experience with the EC. No wonder Mr. Owusu Parry, acting Public Relations Officer of EC, could not hide his feelings when he noted, “They (teachers) have worked for sometime and have acquired some experience and so it is more convenient to use the teachers”. In fact, teachers have become so indispensable that every department, agency or commission expecting to conduct any successful public exercise would want to blend its staff with teachers. On that score, it would be wrong to point at the Electoral Commission of Ghana as the only state institution that makes use of teachers during its constitutionally mandated exercises. The Ghana Statistical Service, Ghana Identification Authority and Ghana Health Service have all made use of teachers in one way or the other.

But the question still goes; is it fair for the teacher to temporarily abandon the classroom for any other income-generating task? Definitely, responses to this query would vary. As beneficiary teachers themselves and some associations would want to vehemently speak in favor of the issue, some may oppose it. For instance, when Ghana Education Service (GES) recently came out that it would not allow its workers to be used as officers in the on-going biometric voter registration exercise, we all saw how some individuals, groups and associations reacted. The National Association of Graduate Teachers and the Ghana National Association of Teachers quickly called for a dialogue between GES and the EC in order for a consensus to be reached. According to these two associations, the inclusion of teachers in the exercise would give results better than the use of national service personnel, as being proposed by some members of the general public. As these associations seemed to have backed the EC’s move for teachers to be used in the 40-day exercise, some individuals, groups and government functionaries saw it as unfair and a calculated attempt to deny the mass of unemployed graduates the opportunity for them to also earn some incomes. The Kwahu South District Chief Executive, Mr. Joseph Omari also expressed his unhappiness about the use of huge chunk of teachers for the exercise at the expense of students in his district. A GNA report has it that the Kwahu South EC boss, Mr. Yaw Peprah, had to appear before the assembly to explain why he massively recruited teachers for the exercise.

It is an undeniable fact that many schools have suffered as a result of this exercise. Teaching and learning has come to a standstill. General school administration has also faced some casualties. I therefore support the suggestion for EC to use unemployed graduates in tasks of this caliber. With proper training, requisite resources, supervision and motivation, these individuals can equally deliver quality service, I believe. Teachers could however be used if such exercises should fall outside of school days (i.e. weekends or vacations). Whatever the case, any contract to be assigned teachers must not unduly interfere with their own professional duties. The use of school heads and education officers in such contracts must be discouraged. One can imagine how worrisome the situation will be for a visitor who cannot meet the head teacher of a school for important discussions just because the school head is engaged on an electoral assignment elsewhere. Why should a head teacher, who is supposed to be a dignified person, be placed behind bars for allegedly stealing EC registration equipment? Teachers are for classrooms; they must be supported to deliver. Any attempt to involve them in other assignments aside of the school must be well thought out. It must be noted that the interest of the school child overrides all other considerations.

Government should create more opportunities for teachers to increase their lots. For instance, the Ghana Book Development Council of the Ministry of Education and allied bodies can support the teacher to earn more income through writing of books and other learning materials.

Should the current situation where teachers leave pupils in schools for extra incomes elsewhere be allowed to continue, my belief is that Ghana will find it hard to improve upon its educational standard. Students need quality attention and support to be able to perform. Teachers must recognize this and be willing to serve.