Innovate to attract and retain quality teachers

Rwandan teachers at a past event. File.

Allow me to pen this last write-up on education by focusing on teachers, who just last Friday celebrated their day internationally.

Teachers are a major factor in sustainable socio-economic development and thus the teaching force requires special management. In Rwanda where we seek to make our economy knowledge based, the need to attract and motivate teachers does not need to be over emphasized.

As the government continues to avail more educational infrastructure and all manner of resources, the human resource which is the most vital factor in providing quality education should receive the attention it deserves.

The noble profession is hardly ever adequately remunerated worldwide. Governments often argue that being many, the teachers’ wage bill becomes a burden to national budgets.

This argument may be true, but it should not be a premise for a permanent condition. Poor conditions of service for teachers remain constant even when countries experience GDP growth, and national budgets increase significantly.

Government planners should continuously seek ways of motivating teachers.

Professional benefits come in different forms.

Those concerned with the welfare of teachers could devise inexpensive strategies, which are practiced elsewhere. When I worked in Kenya as a high school teacher in the 1980s, school age daughters and sons of colleagues were exempt from paying school fees.

It motivated teachers to work hard and resist temptations to switch jobs or work stations.

Consider this lament by a teacher in Eastern Province of Rwanda: “Can I have the morale to teach when I can’t afford to pay fees for my child who has been admitted to a school of excellence?”

The Ministry of Education, should consider offering scholarships to one or two children per teacher. Similarly at university level, we could borrow a leaf from Botswana; when a friend worked there a decade ago, a lecturer’s spouse and children were exempted from paying tuition fees, if they enrolled in the university where he or she served. In some universities even senior non teaching staff benefit from the free education scheme.

Another important factor to teacher motivation is promotion.

I know teachers who have struggled to upgrade from the lowest rank to graduate teachers that feel frustrated because after graduating from university, they remain in A2 positions for a long time.

Yet fresh graduates with similar qualification, from the same institutions are recruited at higher levels. This anomaly can only be rectified if district officials responsible are made to adhere to rules and regulations.

Ministry officials, who are experts in their field, should closely monitor what happens in district to ensure that government policies are followed to the letter. A teacher’s career progression and promotion must be well managed. 

For instance, early this year over 40 teachers lost their jobs in Nyagatare district. One of them who claimed his dismissal did not follow due procedures could not get redress from the higher authorities, at the ministry, on the grounds that he was an employee of the district.

There is no doubt that decentralisation has been a boost to good governance in the country, however, in specialized areas, like healthy, education, security agencies, district administration may not have requisite expertise to deal with complexities and complications that are bound to arise in those specialised sectors of public service.

Teachers constitute a large proportion of public service (approximately 71.000) and deserve a special human resource management unit. 

Acting on behalf of government, such a commission would recruit and sign teachers to public schools, promote, and exercise disciplinary control over teachers, oversee the training of teachers, assess demand for supply of teachers and generally advise government on all matters related to the profession.

It is my considered opinion that such an arrangement, which has been effective in some countries in the region, would not erode the authority of the local administration as they would retain the role of supervision.

The Government has put in place some mechanisms to supplement low salaries and uplift the standards of living of teachers. Umwalimu Sacco, established in 2008 is such a great idea.

It provides members with relatively cheap loans compared to commercial banks, offers emergency loans and education loans. This boost to the education sector should not be derailed by the recent proposal to limit the loans to only teachers who possess a teaching certificate.

This is ill advised because schools employ nurses, bursars, and other professionals. All staff members in schools should access Sacco loans depending on terms of their employment.

Lastly, the programme of constructing teachers’ houses, announced by the Minister for Education during this year’s International Teachers Day,  should be part of every mayor’s imihigo (performance contract), such that when we mark the next teachers’ day on October 5, 2019, we offer them a token of appreciation in the form improved conditions of service.

 

The writer is an Academician based in Kigali. 

ftanganika@yahoo.com

The views expressed in this article are of the authors.

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