Making schools count

A high premium is nowadays placed on paper qualifications. Teachers must possess and flaunt the right credentials before admission into the classroom.

To achieve good learning outcomes, secure job security of teachers and enhance the image of the teaching profession, government invested heavily on teacher professional development. In particular, a deliberate effort was made to phase out Primary School Teaching Certificate (PTC).

In the process, a good number of teachers acquired diplomas and degrees following an upgrading programme. Today the Basic Education ministry boasts highly trained teachers. Some of them have and additional advantage of holding senior degrees. Professional development is a big plus and brings the system a step closer to achieving improved learning outcomes. Government deserves a pat on the back for the investment.

However, experience has shown that professional development is one thing and attainment of good learning outcomes is another thing. Investments in teacher qualifications did not bring about a corresponding improvement in student outcomes.

The simple message from this is that professional development is not everything. It is desirable but is not a panacea to the challenge of academic underachievement that bedevils public schools. Teaching requires more than qualifications. Teaching is a human enterprise, involving interaction between the teacher and the learner in the presence of content. The human element can be a determining factor, adding flavour and aroma in the process of teaching and learning.

The teacher of yesterday armed with the underrated PTC managed to produce desirable results against all odds. The silver bullet was passion.

Just the love for the job can produce wonders. Students need to feel loved and cared for. It must be borne in mind that some of the students are orphans, coming from less privileged backgrounds, while others come from dysfunctional families.

All, regardless of their circumstances, must feel that they are in a caring and game-changing environment. Those coming with feelings of insecurity and vulnerability must over night feel safe and secure. It is the responsibility of teachers to inspire confidence in learners and help students to regain their self worth. When they go astray as they sometimes do, there should be corrected with no reference at all to their background.

A reminder of where they are coming from might not help the school’s cause of playing its game-changing mission. Teachers who always couple teaching with parenting duties always manage get the best out of learners.

The old folks holding PTC carried along to schools their parenting skills and this shaped the attitudes of learners towards learning. Passion can carry more weight than qualifications.

Here is an experience that can shed more light on the subject. Way back in the late 1990s while plying my trade at Lotsane Senior Secondary School, there was an extraordinary teacher of agriculture.

The teacher with his Cambridge O’level Certificate was the least qualified and was also serving on temporary terms. He became a star performer. He loved and respected the students and the students reciprocated. He outperformed better-trained and qualified colleagues. His magic key was passion. One doesn’t know whether his lack of job security pushed him hard but he applied himself more than the rest of the team, sacrificing personal time to work to keep students engaged on the subject. There was more time spent on task than off task. Because of his low qualification he was also the least paid. This brings another factor to the debate.

That is the connection between remuneration and learning outcomes. Yes, teachers are doing a delicate national responsibility. The teaching profession is poised to play a critical role towards the attainment of the goal of transitioning the resource driven economy into a knowledge anchored one. Keeping the teachers happy with adequate remuneration and decent accommodation is important.

However, it will be remembered that the conditions of work of the PTC teachers were far from conducive.

They were under paid and not portly housed. But they never allowed their appalling conditions to affect the learner in the classroom. For them the interests of learners took precedence over any other consideration. Teaching was their calling and they performed it with love and passion. It goes without saying that double income does not necessarily double learning outcomes. Those who are privileged to be in the classroom must never forget to place learners at the centre of everything.

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