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“If You Can Read This, Thank A Teacher”

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Yesterday, October 5th is World Teachers’ Day. Teachers in the member states of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation celebrated the day the world over. The day was established by UNESCO in 1993, it is an opportunity for all of us to think about the difference that teachers have made in our lives.

I remember the car sticker in Ghana during the 1980s which read: IF YOU CAN READ THIS, THANK A TEACHER. How true! It is very true that we all remember moments when an inspiring teacher opened our eyes to something wonderful. Moments like those are happening every day in our schools. As a lifelong teacher, I can testify to this.

According to the World Organization on Education known as UNESCO, “In many countries, there is a severe shortage of teachers, with an estimated 2 million new posts and 18 million additional teachers needed worldwide if universal primary education is to be achieved by 2015. For some countries, this will mean an increase in their teaching force of up to 280 percent.

An even greater number of teachers will be required if adequate provision of secondary, higher, technical and vocational, or non-formal education is to be assured. These numbers will be higher still if all teachers are to be fully and appropriately qualified for the levels and subjects they teach.

Even when the overall supply of teachers is sufficient, remote and disadvantaged areas across the globe may suffer persistent problems in recruitment and retention. This shortage of qualified teachers is one of the biggest challenges to achieving the Education for All (EFA) goals.” Ghana is no exception to this challenge.

Ghana like many other countries around the world has, over the years, sought to improve its education system by introducing reforms and making projections based on the education needs of the country. However, the basic education in the system is yet to experience the impetus that will fortify it as a strong foundation for the child’s educational journey.

In April, 2007 the President of Ghana, J. A Kufuor launched a new education reform in the country. The new system, which was implemented from September 1, 2007, started with two years of kindergarten for pupils at age four; six years of primary school at which the pupil attains age 12; to be followed by three years of Junior High School (JHS) till the pupil is 15 years.

President Kufuor noted that the reform was designed, among other things, to prepare the appropriate human resource in the form of skilled, technologically-advanced and disciplined workforce with the right ethics to service the growing economy. He said, “the Reform placed emphasis on Mathematics, Science and Technology, but to develop a well rounded society, the Arts and Social Sciences would continue to receive the necessary support in the curriculum.”

Unfortunately, soon after the launching, there were reports that the new Education Reform Program, which introduced new structures in the country’s educational system at various levels, would be a fiasco if pragmatic effects were not put in place for its smooth take-off from September, 2007.

With barely a few months to the take-of, of the reform program, members of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) categorically stated that they were not prepared adequately enough for the smooth kick-off of the program.

The Upper East Regional Secretary of GNAT, Mr. Linus Attey Cofie, was quoted as warning that, “rounds conducted by the Association in most schools in the Region have revealed that teachers do not have fertile knowledge as far as the yet to be implemented reforms were concerned.”

Under the Administration of President Nana Addo, Ghana started enjoying free Senior High School education last academic year. This school the program has had to resolved its students’ population with the Double-Tracking System. Teachers in Ghana originally protested against the system with the reason that they were not consulted from the beginning. However, the program, I hear, has taken off successfully this year!

Teachers must be the pivot for ensuring successful learning process sought after in any education reform. They are expected to bring equality learning experiences to the students they (teachers) teach. Unfortunately, teachers in Ghana are often thought of less when education reforms are put in place.

Unlike, teachers in Canada who have formidable unions to fight for their rights and seek better deals with their governments as I have come to know, teachers in Ghana have weak associations which fight more among themselves than against ‘uncaring’ government educational policies which down play teachers interest and at the same time up load their responsibilities.

UNESCO/ILO World Teachers’ Day Message in 2008 forcefully pointed out that, “Faced with such high expectations, teachers often feel undervalued, insufficiently supported and ill equipped professionally to cope with the realities of the environments in which they work.” It suggests that more recruitment, full and appropriate teacher training, better targeted deployment and management, salary and incentives which compare favorably with those in other occupations requiring similar qualifications, better working and living conditions, ongoing professional support and opportunities for career development are all crucial to meet the new challenges

We should all be reminded that teaching is 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 agriculturists, 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. Education has been the major facilitator and catalyst in the astonishing changes and transformation sweeping through the world today. The role of formal (school) education in the liberation of the individual mind as well as economic dependence and in national development is therefore quite obvious. Thus, education pays off not only in literacy but also in income!

It is therefore quite obvious that education is very imperative to the sound development of individuals and nations. Every country ought to provide its people with qualitative and “not only quantitative” education! And every parent ought to ensure that their child gets the best of formal education as much as possible. Undoubtedly, education is the biggest enterprise in any civilized society. Teachers play an important role in this enterprise. Their training, distribution and maintenance as professionals anywhere must be given serious attention. Together we must fight to give our children everywhere the education they need. Knowledge is Power, but ignorance is a disease. And teachers who are the facilitators of learning, which is the process of acquiring knowledge at school deserve better!

I humbly refer education policy-makers in Ghana to the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers and the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel which provide comprehensive guidance on a range of teacher policies, rights and responsibilities. These are formidable guidelines for forward-looking national policies and practices to create a 21st century, professional teaching force.

On this World Teachers’ Day I salute teachers everywhere in the world, especially the very hard working teachers of Ghana, and say that, “IF YOU CAN READ THIS, THANK A TEACHER.

Columnist: Joseph Kingsley Eyiah

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