Teaching: The unsung heroes in society

World Teachers’ Day was launched by the Director-General of UNESCO, Federico Mayor, at the International Conference on Education in Geneva in 1993.

World Teachers’ Day was launched by the Director-General of UNESCO, Federico Mayor, at the International Conference on Education in Geneva in 1993.

The date, October 5 was chosen because it was on that date in 1966 when a special inter-governmental conference, organised jointly by UNESCO and the International Labour Organization (ILO), adopted the recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers, which has remained valid today.

World Teachers’ Day was proclaimed to keep alive the recognition of the contribution of teachers to society. However, when drawing up the policies, governments too often neglect teachers. Yet, their contribution to nation building is paramount in sustained development, social cohesion and peace. It is not unusual for teachers to go unpaid for several months, and sometimes for more than a year.

World Teachers’ Day reminds governments and the general public of the role of teachers and of the need to improve their status and working conditions.

Above all, it is an opportunity to show appreciation for their work in preparing the next generation to function efficiently in a changing world. World Teachers’ Day provides the opportunity to draw public attention to the important role of teachers within society.

What are teachers to society?

Teachers around the world are using the most creative techniques to open up children’s minds and release the treasure and potential from an individual.

It’s also equally important to acknowledge the vast contribution of teachers all over the world in awakening potential and fostering the fundamental capacity of human beings to seek knowledge, to disseminate information and to share their collective wisdom.

Never has there been a more educated century, yet never was there a more pressing need for cooperation and understanding among the peoples of the world than today.

Teachers can awaken the sense of social justice that is essential to building peace and sustainable development on a foundation of strong social policies centered on social progress, justice, democracy and the eradication of poverty.

In their daily work, teachers offer ideas, provoke ways of thinking and acting, instill principles, values and ideals.

Teachers, educators and their organisations play a crucial role in the process of expanding access to education, as an effective response to the scourge of child labour.

Free basic education, defended by teachers as an inherent right, is universally acknowledged to be a key in removing an estimated 120 million children between the ages of five and 14 years from full-time work and providing for their social integration which makes teachers a tremendous force for bringing about social change.

As the backbone of the education sector, teachers assume responsibility for the most challenging assignment in the world - that of developing the potential of children as they set out on their individual paths “to learn”, “to do”, “to be” and “to live together,” the four pillars of education identified by the Commission for Education in the Twenty-First Century.

Teachers are instrumental in giving children that unique first glimpse of the possibilities of life and in perpetuating the quest for knowledge through lifelong learning.

Always in the intellectual vanguard, teachers occupy a central role in advancing and developing ideas, nurturing critical thinking skills and the thirst for knowledge in learners. This task becomes more challenging in today’s information society.

In the knowledge economy, teachers need more than ever to ensure quality outcomes for students in literacy, numeracy and life skills.

More than 100 countries recognise World Teachers’ Day and the number grows annually and each country decides how to celebrate the day.

The international theme for 2007 is “Quality Teachers for Quality Education: Better Conditions for Teachers means Better Learning Conditions for Learners.”

This acknowledges the need to provide teachers with quality pre service preparation and access to continuing professional learning for further development throughout their careers.

Teaching can be a very rewarding profession, and teachers have a great role in their students’ intellectual, personal and social development, thereby influencing the whole nation’s development.

Poor welfare

However, teachers worldwide are confronted with inadequate working conditions, which prevent them from performing as well as they would like to.

This is where education international affiliates and teachers’ unions can make a difference, by demanding and obtaining improvements in working conditions for their members.

Denis Rwakawungu, a teacher at Kagarama Secondary School says, teachers unlike others in the traditional civil service, live a miserable life.

Rwanda being among the countries with a high standard of living, many teachers finds it hard to meet even the basic of the needs.

“The money we are given is not enough and cannot cater for housing, feeding, medication, paying school fees for our children and many other life needs,” Rwakawungu said.

Workers in other professions are facilitated with vehicle loans, investment loans, house loans because of high pay and others are given field allowances.

So by the time their salary comes, it does not go to solve problems like for teachers who only have to wait for their monthly salary.

Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) is Rwanda’s only progressively active teachers training institution with producing over 300 graduate teachers every year.

It awards its graduates with post graduate diplomas in both sciences and arts teaching subjects and the number of professional teachers have augmented compared to the past.

According to Nzabalirwa Wenceslas, the Dean of education at Kigali Institute of Education, the government is, next year in January, starting two other colleges of education.

One will be located in Gitarama and will be teaching science subjects only that will include mathematics and biology-chemistry with education, Nzabalirwa said. Another will be located at Ukara in Mutara and will cater for arts; languages and social sciences.

The languages will include English and French with education, and social science faculty will have history and geography with education plus history and religious with education.

Graduate teachers from these institutions, Nzabalirwa says, will be awarded with diplomas and they will be called A1 and the teachers will only be able to handle students at ordinary level.

These colleges will help to close the existing gap within the teaching career and solve problems of unqualified teachers in schools.

Kigali Institute of Education also offers distance teaching programmes to train teachers already in service as a way of professionalizing them.

The programme began in 2001 and grandaunts of this programme were passed out last year. The first intake constituted 500 admissions and the second is going to take 1000 teachers in January next year. 
Foreign influx

The country has a very big challenge of competent and qualified teachers and so, many unprofessional people within the country and foreigners especially from the Democratic Republic of Congo have taken the advantage to fill the gap in teaching.

“We have noticed a flock of unqualified and incompetent people without teaching ethics and requirements busy practicing teaching,” Nzabalirwa said.

It is normally seen during supervision of student teachers while on school teaching practice which is part of the training course.

The fact remains that such unprofessional teachers are dangerous not only to the students but also to the country’s development, because they send to the labour market half baked students due to the fact that the teachers themselves lack the skills and methodology of teaching required by a qualified teacher.

Meagre pay, govt trying to address the plight

All over the world, teachers are the poorly paid civil savants compared to other civil servants, Nzabalirwa said.

“The government has done a tremendous effort to increase the teacher’s salary by more than 50 per cent especially for secondary teachers,” Nzabalirwa says.

Teachers form about 80 per cent of the number of civil servants in the country who are paid by the government. However, teachers are not given facilitation and remuneration as other workers from other sections of the civil service with similar academic levels.

Other workers with low levels of education are given benefits and a high pay for their services than even professors and doctors, a remuneration that is not fair, Nzabalirwa says.

So many qualified teachers are forced to divert to other relatively well paying jobs because of poor pay. Nzabalirwa further says that schools which provide teachers with houses, transport allowances and other motivating benefits have a better qualified teaching staff.

Other challenges include; big numbers of students per class especially in primary and secondary and even at institution levels. For example, at Kigali Institute of Education they have a total of 600 students only in first year.

Teachers also lack teaching materials such as text books for students and teachers, laboratory facilities for those teaching sciences and not giving them regular refresher courses to improve on their performance and competences.