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Opinions Sat, 26 Oct 2013

Reconsider Ban on Teacher Recruitment!

In a country where education is the topmost priority of the government, a ban on teacher recruitment, if even temporary should never be considered as a solution to any educational problem. But, since August 20, 2013, Ms Benedicta Nana Biney, the Director-General of Ghana Education Service (GES), has placed a ban on teacher recruitment in all public schools in the country.

Apart from the myriad of of educational problems in Ghana such as inadequate infrastructure, there is currently a 60,000 teacher deficit at the basic level of education alone. The situation at the secondary education level is not different. What then is the rationale for the ban on teacher recruitment, if I may ask? For the past decade, the general public has been skeptical about the quality of products being churned out of our schools. Therefore, any action to deny the child access to quality teaching is a misplaced one.

It was against this backdrop that the government of Ghana deemed it fit to introduce teacher trainee allowances and study leave with pay for teachers several decades ago. This was meant not only to attract quality personnel into the teaching service, but also to improve their professional competence.

Unfortunately, in 2013 under Mahama-led NDC government, the teacher trainee allowance in the Colleges of Education has been scrapped whilst several restrictions have been put on the study leave with pay. This has put so much financial strain on teacher trainees, especially students from the rural areas. The series of demonstrations and strikes by teacher unions go to underscore the plight of the Ghanaian teacher in the era of a Better Ghana agenda.

For several years, educational policies introduced by the P/NDC government have not inured to the benefit of the Ghanaian child and the country. For instance, in 1987, a new education reform (JHS/SHS concept) was introduced without the needed resources to achieve its purpose. As a result, the education of over 100,000 graduates from the country's Middle Schools came to a halt. Also in 1993, the academic calendar of the country's public universities was delayed for a year because of the strike action embarked upon by the lecturers (UTAG). In 2009, the NDC's priority under a whole former university lecturer, John Mills was to reverse the SHS duration from 4 to 3 years. In 2010, some teachers who embarked on peaceful demonstration for better pay were sprayed with hot water by the Police. In 2012 under John Mahama, the man who never paid a pesewa towards his entire education, the free secondary education proposal by the NPP was untimely. To them, quality education at the basic level should precede free SHS. Where then is the quality, Mr. Mahama, since we are being told today that common chalk has now become a scarce commodity in our schools?

In my recent interaction with the Director-General of GES, it was revealed that the GES payroll was bloated with ghost names, hence the placement of the ban by his outfit. Some heads of educational institutions have connived with personnel from the Accountant-General's Office and financial institutions to siphon state funds into their pockets. They do so by faking appointment letters for newly-recruited teachers. For instance, an appointment letter meant for say June 2013 could be backdated to read June 2015. The ensuing salary arrears are therefore shared among these "educational armed robbers". Surprisingly, teachers who are dead, those who have travelled outside the country or left the profession are still being paid by the Accountant General. In some instances, registered numbers of some teachers who are dead are sold to some people who never passed through the Colleges of Education. This enables such people to withdraw salaries as practising teachers.

From the above, one would be tempted to agree with the Director-General to some extent. However, my beef lies with how many problems are being created as a result of solving one educational problem. Admittedly, whilst the public purse is being protected by the ban, our kids suffer because they do not have teachers to teach them. Apart from increasing the unemployment levels among university graduates, the ban is a disincentive to the professional development of teachers, because those who leave the profession for further studies cannot be re-engaged.

In Ghana and many other countries, it is an abomination for unqualified persons to enter or practice certain professions such as law and medicine. Surprisingly, the teaching profession in Ghana has become a safe-haven for many young graduates who never attended any of the country's Colleges of Education. But, how many of such people could enter the hospitals and give injections or perform surgeries on patients in their capacity as nurses or surgeons? Yet, if you enter any classroom, it is common to find graduates from the SHSs, polytechnics, and universities practise as teachers. Why can't teaching be limited to professional teachers as pertains in medicine, architecture, and law? For me, if a stop is not put to this phenomenon, the teaching profession would lose its status as a profession sooner than later.

Having been trained as a professional teacher at Wesley College of Education, coupled with a study leave with pay at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, it is unreasonable for my services to be denied by the GES just because I left the GES for further studies abroad. It is also illogical for this ban to take effect in Ghana in view of the 60,000 teacher deficit. Is this action tantamount to brain drain or brain gain?

In fact, the GES might not be aware of the extent of social damage this directive is causing many families, but several phone calls I have received from those affected indicate that the ban is counter-productive. For reasons best known to the GES, appointment letters given to new recruits before the ban came into effect have been retrieved. Also, for close to two years, some teachers at post have not been paid their salaries. Yet, it is propagated in the mass media on daily basis that we are in the second phase of the Better Ghana Agenda.

In winding down, I would appeal to the Director-General of GES, as well as the Minister of Education to lift the ban with immediate effect. Ghanaians are very much aware that the decision to freeze teacher recruitment was based on lack of funds in the national coffers and not necessarily the ghost names on the payroll. Remember, the "meat is down to the bone", hence the freeze on all public sector employment. If the NDC government had been able to pay over GHC800m as judgement debts, including Wayome's GHC51.2m, distributed laptops to university ladies, and provided vehicles to paramount chiefs, I see no reason why the government cannot employ more teachers to teach our own children. If president Mahama could increase his salary from GHC5,000 to GHC12,000 every month, that of MPs and ministers from GHC3,000 to GHC7,200, created new constituencies and districts against public will, then I have no sympathy for him at this time. After all, Ghana is an oil producing country; our economy has been touted as the fastest growing; inflation is down; and our gold, cocoa, timber, and diamond continue to find their way on the world market. Therefore, coupled with the high taxes we pay as citizens, and the external loans from donor countries, there should be no excuse by the Mahama-led NDC to fail.

God bless Ghana! God bless the Ghanaian Teacher!! God bless Kufuor!!!

Katakyie Kwame Opoku Agyemang, Asante Bekwai-Asakyiri (Free SHS Ambassador) Official blog: (www.katakyie.com) katakyienpp@yahoo.co.uk 0202471070 : 0264931361 : 0547851100
Columnist: Agyemang, Katakyie Kwame Opoku