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Opinions Mon, 13 Jan 2020

Are teachers asking for too much of the national cake?

“Labor activist McAleveydelivers a persuasive argument that the power of ‘strong, democratic’ trade unions can fix many of America’s social problems in this timely cri deCoeur….” (Publishers Weekly-2019)

Once upon a time in the land of Ghana, there was the saying that, the teacher’s reward was in heaven. Funny! Wasn’t it? What about the teacher who could not go to heaven? Where was his/her reward? In hell? One could argue that hitherto teachers in Ghana had been poorly paid and their working conditions not commensurate to the services they rendered.

The teachersunions in Ghana-the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) and the Coalition of Concerned Teachers (CCT) over the years had to sit up and fight for the few “better” conditions teachers enjoy in the country. Perhaps the same could be said of teachers in the Ontario Province of Canada. Not until recently teachers in the province had to live with poor conditions of service. It took the dynamic leadership of teachers’ unions in Ontario to negotiate with the provincial government (in Canada education is the responsibility of the Provinces) to get better service conditions for teachers in the province some years back. Such negotiations were devoid of industrial actions.

They were peaceful and mature! Why are we now experiencing teachers’ strike actions in both Ghana and Ontario as a means to “forcing” governments to improve teachers’ working conditions? Are teachers asking too much of the national cake? Or are governments being insensitive to the plight of education nowadays and as such making the work of teachers too difficult as well as insignificant?

A noble profession:

From time immemorial, teaching has been a noble profession. From the days of Socrates to the time of Paul of the Bible students/graduates had spoken highly of their teachers (also called masters in some instances). The Holy Bible mentions teaching as one of the three top spiritual gifts from God that we must desire most for the growth of His church (read 1 Corth. 12:28).

Interesting! Teachers make the medical doctors, the lawyers, the accountants, the engineers, the agriculturalists, the musicians, the pastors, the politicians, the nurses, the computer analysts and many other workers who contribute effectively to the building of a nation anywhere.

This noble profession which propels education should not be seen at loggerheads with the main provider of education to the detriment of students and parents as being experienced in the Province of Ontario, which hosts most of the immigrants to Canada from all parts of the world including Ghana.

The Ontario Situation:

High school students in Toronto and other regions in Ontario were out of class on December 4, 2019 as teachers and education workers involved in contentious contract negotiations with the province planned to hold another one-day strike on December 11.

Indeed, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) which represents 60,000 educators had said that high school teachers in nine district schools boards would hold a one-day strike on Dec. 11. A similar job action closed all high schools -- and many elementary schools -- in the province on Wednesday, December 4.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario members also had begun a strike action (work-to-rule) throughout the province effective Tuesday, November 26, 2019.

Members of the other teacher unions in province such as the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) voted97.1% in favour of strike action starting Dec. 21 and, the Ontario teachers in the French-language school system have alsovoted 97 per cent in favour of a strike.

The Ontario government announced cuts to education—especially an increase in class sizes and a decrease in the number of teachers. Teachers in the province had their contracts expired in August, 2019 and negotiations with the government to renew their contracts have sticky due to the cuts to education as it happened in the Province during the early years of 2000,

In 2003 a former Premier of Ontario urged support for Ontario Teachers. According to the June 6, 2003 issue of the Toronto Star, an ex-premier of the province pleaded for future of education, urging support for Ontario teachers and describing teaching as the “most relevant profession we have”. The paper reports, “Praising teachers as hard working and deserving of our support, former Ontario premier William Davis made an impassioned plea for the preservation of public education in the province yesterday during the Toronto City Summit Alliance.”

We are enjoying the festivities associated with the end of the year, 2019, however, we do not know what the year 2020 has in store for students, teachers and parents in the Ontario Province of Canada as the conflict between Teacher Unions in the province and the Conservative government led Premier Doug Ford continues.

At the root of the conflict is the question of how much the Conservative government will spend on the province’s schools. The government has said it wants to trim education spending in order to help balance the provincial budget.

The Situation as in Ghana:

The situation in Ghana though not as turbulent as in Ontario also calls for the same question: Are Teachers Asking for Too Much of the National Cake? It was reported in the news that just before the Christmas holidays (December, 2019) the 3 teacher unions in Ghana declared strike after suspecting that their arrears have been verified and approved for payment by the Controller and Accountant General’s internal audit unit, yet the monies were not released. The Teacher Unions gave the GhanaEducation Service (government) December 5 ultimatum to settle the arrears of teachers affected. The government responded by describing the strike as illegitimate and took to the court to order the teachers back to the classroom.

The Ghana Education Service (GES) was of the view that public funds could not be dissipated to undeserved persons (referring to teachers). And that management was working hard to clean the data to ensure that only deserved persons were paid by the Christmas as agreed with the conduct of the Teacher Union leaders at a meeting on December 2, 2019. However, the President of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), Phillippa Larsen blamed the delay in paying the arrears to the teachers on the GES and said at their press conference that, “We are not prepared to see our teachers suffer as a result of somebody’s negligence. Our pleas have fallen on deaf ears and the status quo remains. We cannot continue to tolerate this. Indeed, for how long shall they ignore our members. The teachers-the purveyors of education, don’t expect us to continue to look on. We can’t stand this!”

The over 300,000 members of the three major Teacher Unions in Ghana, upon a court order, returned to the classroom just before the Christmas break. However, the Unions public remarks that, “you can take the horse to the riverside but you cannot force it to drink” underscores the continuous tension between the teachers and the government of the country.

The present government of Ghana has restored allowances to teachers in training and made efforts to “provide incentive packages for teachers, who accepted to work in deprived rural communities.” As much as I would appreciate incentive packages for teachers who work in rural or “needy” communities, I would like to see a comprehensive appraisal and overhauling of conditions of service for teachers to make them more dedicated to the profession they have chosen. This should include in-service training for serving teachers and the prompt payment of arrears to all affected teachers. One would argue,they knew the profession before entering it. It’s a sacrificial job! Well, how long should teachers (obviously, makers of the all workers who build the national economy) be made to sacrificed their welfare and quality of education at the altar of the national cake? Could teachers be asking for too much? Should our education systems be made to suffer by disagreements between governments and teachers’ unions? Is there any better way of ending teachers’ strikes other than legislating them back to work?

Teachers Deserve Better:

The situation is bad. Students and parents are suffering. Are teachers asking for too much or the Ford government is cutting back too much of its educational funding especially to special education which benefits ‘students-at-risk’ in Ontario? Are teachers in Ghana as in Ontario also asking for too much or is the Ghana government becoming negligent towards the welfare of teachers and the quality of education in that country as a whole? The best investment any country could make for its younger generation is to invest in quality and inclusive education.

Together we must fight to give our children everywhere the education they need. Knowledge is Power, but ignorance is a disease!
Columnist: Joseph Kingsley Eyiah