October was World Teachers’ Day and the University of The Gambia Education
Students’ Association, for first time in the history of the university, held a
colourful symposium to mark the day.
According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), teachers are defined as professional personnel involved in direct student instruction involving planning, organising and conducting group activities to develop students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes as stipulated by education programmes.
By this definition, teachers’ professional expertise, first and foremost, lies in being able, through training and experience, to help children to learn.
Teachers also play an important role in transmitting cultural and social values that include tolerance, dialogue in societal conflict resolution and gender equality.
However, in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa there has developed a general attitude where teachers are regarded as child minders or grassroots’ social workers.
UNESCO says teaching has increasingly lost prestige as governments tried to control teacher costs by bringing in large numbers of unqualified or contract teachers or supplementing school capacity with teacher aides, volunteer workers and other categories of para-teaching staff.
This has the effect of not just lowering the average qualification and experience level of the teaching force, but also of lowering the prestige of teachers in communities and more negatively in the eyes of their pupils.
For instance, in Namibia only 38 per cent of teachers in primary schools are trained, while in Botswana, Malawi and Tanzania most primary school teachers hold lower secondary qualifications.
Quite often, teachers holding lower secondary education qualifications have not been very effective in teaching of maths, sciences and reading.
According to UNESCO’s Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality, pupil achievement is lowest in countries where they are taught by teachers with only nine years of education.
“For instance, in Lesotho, almost 50 per cent of primary school pupils are taught key primary subjects by teachers with only primary education qualifications, not much more than the pupils they teach,” says SACMEQ.
Besides often lacking the relevant qualifications, most teachers are ill-prepared to teach pupils of different age groups. Since the introduction of the free primary learning, there has been no guideline on the maximum age for which one can enroll in a specific class, hence most learners enter school being over-age or became over-age of a specific class due to repetition.
According to UNESCO, 80 per cent of pupils in public schools are over-age. Even then, teaching in Kenya’s public sector is ridden with problems of providing sufficient instructional time to pupils. Whereas teachers have the lowest teaching load in the world, there is chronic teacher absenteeism, which has been attributed to indiscipline.
In addition to teacher absenteeism, real instructional time is reduced by strikes, punishment, and pupil absence from school and copying as a result of having no textbooks.
is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”