Teachers today face many challenges inside and outside the classroom and these may affect their motivation and their ability to carryout their duties effectively. Large class sizes, especially in junior secondary schools, make it difficult for them to effectively impart knowledge and skills to their pupils, writes Mmegi Correspondent GRAHAME MCLEOD
In the late 1990s all the graduates of Tonota College of Education (TCE) were employed in government schools. In fact, before they wrote their final examinations at the end of Year 3, they already had received letters telling them that they would be posted to a particular school in the following January – some three months later. But today, things are very different. Now, they have to apply for vacancies and compete with other applicants and being employed, as a teacher is by no means certain. In many cases, the best that graduates can hope for is a temporary post where a teacher may be on maternity or study leave. Or a post in a primary school even if they are qualified to teach in secondary schools.
Teachers also complain that they are underpaid, especially with regard to duties undertaken outside normal working hours. For example, in the case of sports activities which so often take place over the weekends. So, they should be paid for this; after all, other government workers, such as drivers, receive overtime payments. And accommodation is also another burning issue of concern for teachers. These days we hear of cases where one teacher with children may share a two-bedroomed house with another teacher. And such cases may so easily lead to friction and conflict! Government needs to embark on constructing more houses, and also to meet the needs of teachers with large families; perhaps more houses could have three bedrooms instead of the standard two bedrooms. And the situation has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because classes may be divided and so more teachers have to be hired for whom little accommodation may be provided. But there is another side to this story. Rentals are low for government housing and are subsidised. And many teachers are accommodated on campus thus eliminating time spent and the costs of travelling to school. Hence a teacher can wake up at 6.50 am and still get to school for morning assembly at 7am! In contrast, in the UK – a country with a well-developed advanced education system – no government school provides on campus accommodation for its teachers. Teachers, therefore, have to find private accommodation elsewhere. So, they pay higher rentals and more money and time is spent in commuting to and from school each day! So, at least some teachers in our government schools may not be too badly off when it comes to accommodation!
Another issue is transfers. Now according to government, teachers may be posted to any school in the country. However, many teachers who are posted to rural schools may see it as ‘punishment’ as if to say ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ And they may miss the bright lights of the city, being able to buy anything at the local shopping mall, having their hair done at a fancy hair saloon, spending time chilling out at a four-star hotel dining and cooling off at the pool... Clearly, government needs to do something to motivate such teachers since a poorly motivated teacher will be less effective in imparting knowledge and skills to his pupils. Hence, the pupils will underperform; maybe this is another reason for generally poor examination results in rural schools? So, maybe government could motivate such teachers by offering them rent-free accommodation or a generous rural allowance to help compensate for the inconvenience of living and working in a remote area. And government could also provide free transport to the nearest town at month end for them to do their shopping, go to the bank...
However, government needs to consider the needs of teachers on a one by one basis. For example, if a married couple are both teachers, they should, if possible, be posted to the same school. Or if this is not possible, they can be posted to different schools in the same town or village. Posting one spouse to Gaborone and the other to Kasane will probably demotivate them in their work. Also, if the couple have children, then separating the spouses will mean that the children will not have access to one of their parents which can have a negative effect on their upbringing. Children need both parents if they are to perform well at school and become responsible citizens!
Teachers also complain of lack of promotion in their teaching careers. Teaching, indeed, is a demanding profession and so, teachers on the frontline at the chalk face need to be appreciated more by their employers! In government schools, teachers are rarely rewarded for hard work. So, whether you work your fingers to the bone 24/7 and sacrifice your weekends on sports trips, or merely do the minimum, you will receive the same salary; working hard counts for little. Therefore, government needs to reward such deserving teachers. In the private sector, hard-working employees may receive extra benefits, perks, or a 13th paycheck! At present, each year on Teachers Day some teachers in public schools may receive meritorious service, long and distinguished service, silver jubilee service, and mid-career service awards and medals. However, only a hundred or so teachers may receive such awards each year. Hence government could come up with other ways of rewarding those teachers who excel on the job. For example, their salary could be increased by one or two notches on the salary scale, or if they have reached the compulsory retirement age, they could continue working on contract. In 2014, Tonota College of Education (TEC) introduced Teacher of Excellence awards for the best lecturer in each subject department.
Although all our teachers are well educated, once on the job they may experience challenges many of which may only be addressed through further training. Even experienced teachers with years in the classroom may get rusty and may need to update their skills. To address this pressing issue, teacher development is vital, and for this reason, government has provided in-service training for teachers. Although this is a well-meaning initiative, some teachers are of the opinion that some of these courses may be too theoretical and so may not fully address challenges that they face each day. According to them, these courses need to focus more on down to earth topics such as teaching techniques, preparation of teaching aids, discipline (now that corporal punishment cannot be carried out in schools by teachers). And now that we are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the digitisation age, serving teachers also need to be more exposed to the use of computer technology and the Internet in teaching.