Sierra Leone: caps on recruitment
Teacher absenteeism in Sierra Leone varies from 10 per cent to 40 per cent. The government’s cap on teacher recruitment has led to classrooms being left without any teacher or staffed by unpaid and unqualified teachers. Teachers are engaged by school managers and principals, but have not been trained and may not have been paid for up to two years.
Such teachers are often absent from school as they have to travel to Ministry of Education headquarters to follow up on their employment status. The EI affiliate in Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone Teachers’ Union (SLTU), mounted a campaign on teacher recruitment and collaborated with Action Aid and the National Coalition.
Ben Vayambah, a former teacher and member of EI’s affiliate, the National Teachers Association of Liberia (NTAL), explained that, because of the low pay and the risk of spending half of their salary on transportation, some teachers wait two to three months before travelling to collect their cheque. When they eventually turn up at the county headquarters, they are told that their cheques have been deposited back into the treasury. It might take another three to six months before such a teacher can receive the re-issued cheque.
Rural teachers who travel to the county headquarters may have to take an additional day off to do their monthly shopping after being paid. So, through no fault of their own, teachers have to close schools to travel to a distant place to receive their pay. This may amount to a week or more away from the classroom.
Enrolment has increased dramatically, surpassing expectations in many countries. However, there is concern about the quality of education which is being delivered.
In many African schools, classrooms are overcrowded. Five to 10 children share text books, school libraries do not have the relevant books, and science laboratories are without basic equipment. In this poor learning environment, teachers have to devise innovative ways to make learning possible.
Demand for accountability
Across Africa, societies are increasingly aware of the social and economic relevance of education – and are demanding greater accountability from teachers. But it is not just teachers who can make education work. Parents, governments, teachers themselves, the public, and learners must all contribute to the education process.
Due to brutal poverty throughout Africa and high illiteracy rates, the burden has been placed almost solely on teachers to make education work.
In many instances when students excel in public examinations, parents claim that their children are clever without attributing any accolade to teachers. When the students fail, there is an overwhelming condemnation of teachers.
However, teachers in Africa have accepted their role as critical partners in education and are endeavouring to prove their mettle in delivering quality education.
Absenteeism a problem
Unfortunately, the teaching profession has been accused of significant absenteeism. In some countries, teacher absenteeism is on the increase and contributes to a poor quality of education. But, should teachers alone be held responsible for the causes of teacher absenteeism? No. In my experience, the nature of teacher recruitment and pay is seriously flawed in a number of African countries.
Liberia: salary collection
Working with teachers in Liberia, I learnt that the manner in which they collect salaries contributes greatly to their absences. Nancy Wreh, a primary school teacher from Gbanga, told me that she feels sorry for her students any time she is away from school. “I feel guilty, but I can’t help it,” she admitted.
Teachers in Liberia are paid by cheque. At the end of every month, teachers in various counties must travel to the county headquarters to receive their pay cheques. Some of them use as much as half of their salary on travel costs. Those who can’t afford a fare sometimes walk 10-20 kilometres to the payment centre. It can take a whole week to complete this exercise.
The NTAL, in a bid to arrest this negative trend, has launched a campaign to change the pattern of paying teachers, advocating that they be paid at their workplace. Gradually, the campaign is paying off as the government is accelerating the establishment of banks in rural areas. But the challenge remains and NTAL is committed to continuing its advocacy until every teacher is paid at their workplace. NTAL believes that when the pay system is improved, teachers will be able to stay in school and concentrate on teaching.
Recently, the government recruited 1,300 new teachers but still more vacancies exist and more teachers need to be employed. The ‘Every classroom needs a teacher’ campaign is working, but more efforts need to be exerted on governments and others, to ensure that enough teachers are recruited.
Through such campaigns, along with the promotion of the code of ethics, education unions are helping to eradicate teacher absenteeism in schools in their respective countries.