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Opinions Wed, 15 Jun 2016

Allowance for teacher trainees was a stitch in time that saved nine

In this article, I address three thematic issues regarding the continuing debate on the modification of monthly allowances for teacher trainees into students’ loans by the NDC government.

I do this through the employment of the Socratic Inquisitory Method in the hope that I can inspire the reader to provide his/her own answers to the nagging contentions in this national discourse.

It means the reader does not have to agree with me.

I employ the Socratic Method in this debate for two important reasons: First, I do this in the hope that this conversation can be devoid of the highly partisan character of anything Ghanaian. Second, I do this to shed light on some of the intricacies involved in this debate that, for political expediency, the contending sides and their followers are adamantly refusing to pay attention.

First, what caliber of individuals do our Teacher Training Colleges (now Colleges of Education or CoEs) attract, and why? This first question dovetails with the second: what are the conditions under which these individuals train, and how different is their training from that of other professional groups and programs?

Third, what conditions of service, including upward social mobility (promotion and socio-cultural status), await these individuals in their practices after completing their programs of training?

In 1991, I enrolled at the Ada Teacher Training College after spending a whole year at home after my ordinary level (“O”) examination. No other professions attracted me as a young person in search of a career path than the ink fraternity or the queen of the liberal arts—law (I personify law this way with the symbolic Justitia in mind).

At that time, one required only three credits in the “O” level examination, including English, to enroll at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ). In this case, I was overqualified by academic requirements to enroll in this august institution. Unlike the teacher training colleges, the nurses training colleges, and the agricultural training colleges, where students received free tuition and allowances to support their daily exigencies, students in the institute of journalism were self-sponsored. Thus, considering my poor economic background, the GIJ could not have been an option for me.

The pursuit of law required two years advanced high school education (or “A” level also referred to as sixth form education). With grade eight in mathematics at a second sitting—with excellent and good grades in all other subjects—I could have enrolled for the “A” level in the Arts, as was the practice (whereby students pursuing the Arts with excellent and good grades in their area of specialization with a pass in math are let in on government scholarship. Same for the physical sciences with a pass in English). But that required a person of influence making my case.

The other option would have been to sit for the “A” level examination as a private candidate, which also required huge financial investments. I, therefore, enrolled at the Ada Teacher Training College, viewing it as a springboard out of lack of opportunity.

As inferable from the above anecdote, the kind of financial support available to the teacher training colleges from 1991 attracted many young people like me who lacked opportunities for academic progression for reasons just as mine. While it is difficult to remember, now, what our predecessors received in terms of allowances before the introduction of the financial support that is being withdrawn now, my faint recollection would place that around 500.00 (old cedis) or less monthly.

My monthly allowance in 1991 at the Ada Teacher Training College was 13,000.00 (old cedis). It was a stitch in time that saved nine. I could buy my own books, pay for my daily exigencies, and even extend a hand of support to friends and family. I became totally independent from then on, just like many of my peers.

To say that the teacher training colleges did not attract individuals whose true calling was teaching would be an understatement. For folks like Daniel Nii Awuku, Emmanuel Djangba and many others who had been teaching for years, it was an opportunity to refine their skills. So were many in my category, too, who were simply looking for an opportunity for advancement.

It is often argued by those who oppose allowances for teacher trainees that the colleges have not attracted the right caliber of trainees, so some of these individuals abandon post soon after graduating. What about those who trained as air force pilots in Ghana and, then, move on to join commercial aviation entities as pilots? The point is that, in life, individuals will always evaluate their circumstances and make decisions that offer them the most benefits as we understand it in rational choice theory.

Teacher trainees are no exceptions to this rule. The rewards and the motivations that are supposed to make teaching attractive and a profession of choice are not there. So, soon after serving the mandatory bond of three years, which some did not even serve, most of my peers jumped ship.

Turning to the training of a teacher, it is unlike the training of other professional classes.

An integral part of a teacher’s training is the teaching practice which affords the teacher trainee the opportunity to experience the classroom as a leader in charge of the learning activities of students. In most cases, this requires staying away from their institutions where they are students. In some cases, these teacher trainees travelled for over 50 miles away from their institutions of training to undertake this practical aspect of their training, which is to help them connect theory to praxis.

While off campus, teacher trainees are expected to rent a place to stay, cook their own food, and pay for other daily exigencies. In my own case, even though I chose on campus teaching practice—meaning I commuted to my assigned school each day—the cost of teaching/learning materials, cost of food (as one was automatically to fend for oneself once on teaching practice) depleted the monthly allowance I received.

Let us consider the following educational programs: accounting, management, sociology, political science, economics, biological sciences, etc., for a moment, in comparison with the training of a teacher. The difference is that for the training of students in the educational programs identified above, internships are normally optional.

Even where internships are required, in most cases these individuals stay at home with their parents and commute to their workplaces. In this sense, the cost associated with teaching practice is evaded by students in the aforementioned programs.

The pressing question is: why should a teacher trainee spend his/her, now, student loan in purchasing teaching-learning materials to tutor students as part of his/her practicum, when he/she will be paying the same loan back just as other students in sociology, political science, accounting, management, anthropology, classics, religion, languages, biological sciences, chemistry, etc., who do not have to expend their loans in providing the necessary inputs for their training?

Moreover, what are the professional trajectories for the various programs identified in comparison with teacher education? For the over 90 percent of teachers from the teacher training colleges, now CoEs, the Government of Ghana (GoG) remains the sole employer. The point is that, like civil servants, their wages can hardly take them home. Price Water House Salary Structure in the 1990s and the recent Single Spine Salary Structure have not been able to uplift teachers from the economic doldrums they constantly find themselves in.

For teachers who may even entertain the idea of private schools, the fear of lower wages and job insecurity are constant threats to their sustainable employment and a strong deterrent to stay with the state. Compared to all the programs identified earlier on, the teacher cannot receive a market price for his/her services either in private schools or in state schools.

Take the accounting graduate, for example; he/she is on the open competitive market where he/she can attract value for money, especially in the private sector. When even this graduate decides to work in a government institution, the opportunities to extort money from the public for legitimate services are always available and duly exploited. I remember my days as a teacher when one had to bribe someone at what was termed “the computer room” to ensure that your name was on the payroll for the coming month’s salary.

For a teacher, how do you take your bribe, from stealing chalk or tasking poor parents to pay for what? Furthermore, as I stated in an earlier article (Please follow the link to the

http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/Re-We-can-t-maintain-teacher-trainees-allowance-282977 ), there are some unwritten professional philosophies that guide the professional life of a trained teacher in Ghana.

These unwritten philosophies have a life of their own, no matter how inaccurate they may sound. For a long time, teachers from our training colleges, as fulcrums of primary education in Ghana, are under obligation to accept postings to any part of the country, especially the remote areas where no one would want to go, in return for the allowances they had received while in training. By the same token, local authorities recruit individuals from their locales and sponsor their enrollment in the CoEs as a way to tie their future services to their communities in return for the sponsorship.

While the huge infrastructure developments by the current administration in the CoEs—driven by the goal of admitting more students into the CoEs—are commendable, we should not be fixated on just those two elements with regard to the training of a teacher. We have upgraded the teacher training colleges to CoEs, we have improved infrastructure, and we claim to be training more teachers than ever before, but the results from the first and second cycle educational institution are continuing to nose-dive.

The point is that the aforementioned ingredients are only part of the jigsaw puzzle in improving education. There are other important factors that still remain untackled and would continue to impinge negatively on the educational outcomes at all levels of Ghana’s education. I strongly believe that the withdrawal of allowances for teacher trainees and injecting the logic of financial equity into the resources that support teacher trainees is a single act that will throw first and second cycle education into chaos in a few years to come, when teachers begin to repay their loans from their scanty salaries.

Just as I was concluding this piece, I chanced upon a piece authored by one Dr. Prince Armah, Executive Director of Viam Africa, who supports government position on scrapping the teacher trainee allowances and calls for the investment of what accrues thereof into infrastructure development of CoEs (Please follow the link to the piece

http://www.myjoyonline.com/opinion/2016/June-6th/is-teacher-trainee-allowances-debate-driven-by-partisan-politics-or-policy-imperatives.php ).

He labels the teacher trainee allowances “a perverse set of incentives” that infringe on even the ideals of equity and social justice.

Instead of reorganizing my piece to address some of the issues he raised, I wish to conclude this piece with questions his institution might be interested in addressing.

1.How do we accurately capture who is poor in Ghana for the interventions he is advocating in his piece (What has been our experience with Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty or LEAP)?

2.Why should a teacher trainee pay for teaching-learning materials, expenses emanating from teaching practice and other exigencies regarding same, when he/she will be paying the same loan back like students in other disciplines? Is that the equity and social justice he is advocating?

3.Would the services of the teacher be bought competitively by the Government of Ghana and all other institutions that require such services, so when it is time for the teacher to repay his/her loan he/she can do so without being overburdened financially?

4.Why is it that in spite of upgrading the teacher training colleges into CoEs, improvement in educational infrastructure, and an increase in enrollment, the results from the first and the second cycle institutions across the country are continuing to nose-dive?

5.What was the state of primary and secondary education in Ghana before the introduction of the teacher trainee allowance?

As we seek answers for what bedevils our educational system, especially at the first and second cycles of the sector, let us do so holistically. Doing so holistically requires us not to be simply fixated on infrastructure development, elevation of institutions on paper, and an increase in enrollment.

But this requires us to consider the content of teaching materials, teaching methods, quality of teachers, conditions under which teachers work, etc. This way, we will be making meaningful headways.

Tsikata, Prosper Yao is an Assistant Professor of Communication, Valdosta State University.

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao