What’s up with the untrained and unqualified teachers in Sierra Leone?

8 April 2008 at 18:23 | 1121 views

By Roland Bankole Marke, Florida, USA.

Moses A. Kargbo reported on 4th April in that the Minister of Education plans to ‘weed out’ untrained teachers in primary and secondary schools in Sierra Leone.

I think the expression “weed out” contextually echoes a poor choice of words. Education is essential and it’s the life blood of a dynamic and progressive society. Investment in education is necessary for socio-economic and political posterity. Poor, untrained and neglected teachers have made priceless sacrifices to help nurture and educate less privileged children. They should not be portrayed as worthless weeds in society. Frankly, these teachers have experienced all sorts of indignities at the hands of pompous and foppish school authorities and the general public and frequently do not receive their salaries on time for months on end. Where’s the human dignity here?

The above is going on while private schools are better off in terms of paying their teachers better salaries and on time. This is the plausible reason for the exodus of government teachers to seek private schools or greener pastures in other jobs or professions. How did the Ministry of Education recruit untrained teachers in the first place? What happened to its blueprint that stipulates the qualifications that teachers should possess to secure a teaching job at both primary and secondary levels? A generation of children has not received formal education, since the insurrection of the rebel war in 1991, except violence, lawlessness that were married to fractured governance. Logically, the demand for teachers should far exceed the current supply.

What is the best approach that the Minister of education Dr. Minkailu Bah should adopt to fix this problem? Mr. Minister, you just cannot fire these poor, helpless teachers like that, without giving them reasonable notice. Remember you were taught by teachers probably by some untrained and/or unqualified ones.

This is my suggestion: Work with the head teachers and principals to organize workshops and training courses that would upgrade their skills, thus giving them the opportunity to acquire the necessary qualifications. Those with long service should be given study leave to acquire the necessary credentials. Each teacher should be mandated to sign a contract, to cut down on turnover, especially during the middle of a school year. Those who refuse to comply after the time expires would have failed to comply with the laid down policy.

The Freetown Teachers College was set up decades ago, to encourage untrained and unqualified primary school teachers to attend evening classes, and eventually achieve proficiency and earn their qualifications. It worked in the past, why not try this idea again? The same should be done for secondary school teachers. But if you choose to be heartless, and throw out these dedicated and experienced(though untrained and unqualified) teachers in the cold, who have made teaching a passion and calling, the consequences could be dire. Some of them have held the fort while others have deserted teaching for greener pastures. If you do, you will be "digging your grave" unconsciously. No matter how good your intentions might be.

Historically, APC governments had had bitter struggles with teachers. It was in 1990 that the teachers in Sierra Leone went on a national strike, because of non payment of their salaries for over three months, including the entrance of politics into the activities of the Sierra Leone Teachers Union.

Schools went on strike throughout the rest of the school year. It was the children that suffered most. Teachers are a united and enlightened group that the minister can negotiate with, not intimidate. They know their rights. They can use such rights to the peril of any government. Give them enough time to get the required training and credentials to transition smoothly into the new requirement. Students’ turmoil can spell trouble with unintended consequences. The country does not need any more student upheaval at this crucial time.

The appearance of ghost teachers on the payroll of schools did not happen by accident, but was a concerted effort carved to siphon funds from government coffers. A teacher’s application to teach is approved by the Ministry of Education. And before any name appears on the payroll voucher of any school, the Ministry of Education must have scrutinized and approved it. Even fictitious institutions that collect payroll vouchers from the Ministry of Education must receive the blessing of the ministry officials. Corruption is endemic and has become a way of life in Sierra Leone. If government employees continue to repeat this criminal action, then the risk must be worth the reward. And the root cause of the problem should be identified and acknowledged.

Teachers are paid a pittance with deplorable terms and conditions of service. Let us be practical, can a minister live on the salary that teachers are paid? What about housing and transportation for teachers? Probably, that sounds like a fairy tale. In the early 90s transportation and rent allowances paid to teachers amounted to only forty leones. That amount could not even rent a room at Kroo Bay, Sierra Leone’s worst ghetto.

To attract dynamic and professional teachers, an attractive salary and benefits package should be offered. Try to attract good, dedicated and loyal teachers by offering them a livable remuneration package. The quality of education in the country in general has been watered down over the years. To raise the standards, a creative and workable system should be introduced. The system introduced by Dr. Wurie has failed the test of time. The demise and aftermath of a protracted war, together with a dearth of funds and a volatile political climate, choked the seeds by the wayside.

To keep teachers motivated and inspired, better incentives like bonuses, prizes and scholarships should be available and accessible to deserving teachers, not given to cronies and surrogates who expect rewards in return for their political allegiance. Teachers need today’s skills to meet tomorrow’s market. Technology is not static or dormant and teachers should consequently be adequately equipped with today’s necessary skills like computer technology. Even the University of Sierra Leone did not have computers until recently, thanks to generous donors who have been donating computers to a few institutions in Sierra Leone. This is the age of technology. Job creation can only have legs if the ministry pays attention to modern technology involved in the training of teachers and students alike.

How many schools have computers connected to the Internet in our primary and secondary schools? These are the salient and urgent issues that the minister should be raising right now. Education usually generates development, and it will in time kill corruption, creating a system of accountability.

Corruption must not be condoned, but it is not a novelty in Sierra Leonean culture. In a productive economy human capital that produces above the expected goal should be adequately compensated. The country needs new ideas not a repetitious old tune that gets stuck in the groove of an overplayed record. We are in the era of positive change, and the children and every Sierra Leonean deserve and demand a visionary blueprint right now.

Roland Bankole Marke
phone: 904-645-5738