One time I attended a meeting that brought together teachers, parents as well as students of candidate classes.
Among the issues on the table was how to improve the academic performance of the candidates. Before devising strategies to improve on the performance of the students, the problems that were responsible for the current state of affairs were first identified.
In typical African fashion the parties at the meeting started trading blame for the various problems. The parents blamed the teacher, the teachers blamed the students and the students blamed the teachers and the cycle went on and on.
The most bizarre comment was from one parent who claimed that the reason students were performing poorly was because many of their teachers were not Rwandans!
Apart from being an extremely racist remark this parent seemed ignorant of the fact that the first Rwandans were taught by Belgians and other non-Rwandan teachers.
One student then came to the rescue of his colleagues by pointing out that frequent changing of teachers was their biggest problem.
Herein was something that the whole congregation needed to critically think about. The issue of having few teacher changes is not only the desire of students but also for school administrators.
Many times than not, a teacher will be hired and will work for a year or to before switching not only employers but also careers.
Actually these days nearly a third of all new teachers leave the profession after just three years, and that after five years almost half are gone.
And this catastrophe is not limited to poor nations only. A quick visit to the New York Times website reveals that even the mighty USA is facing similar challenges.
Information viewed on their web pages on August 29, 2007 exposes a predicament faced by schools as they struggle to fill teaching positions and are having an especially difficult time finding qualified applicants to fill shortages in vital areas like math and science.
These shortages are expected to persist until much more attention is paid to how teachers are trained, hired and assigned. The case is no different here in Rwanda.
Although, Rwanda and other developing nations have a persistent unemployment problem, finding qualified teachers to work in all the educational establishments has never been a small feat to accomplish. Retaining them has many a time proved to be a Herculean task.
Occasional salary increases and financial incentives still don’t seem to address the problem. Maybe teachers should be made to sign a mandatory 5 year contract for their first job.
But this ought to be backed by better working conditions that are aimed at retaining the teachers in the first place. On site accommodation is one of the proven retainers for teachers. At all costs strategies need to be devised to curb the problem of numerous qualified teachers who leave the profession so early.
In addition, higher salaries in the business world and more opportunities for women are drawing away from the field recruits who might in another era have proved to be talented teachers with strong academic backgrounds.
All the coming and going of young teachers is tremendously disruptive, especially to the students. This is because just as the learners are getting used to a new teacher’s ways of teaching, attitude and temperament, another is recruited and the whole process starts again.
Frequent changing of teachers sometimes leads students into unnecessary nostalgic comparisons. You will often here statements like, “Mr. Kagabo was the best teacher we have ever had, this new teacher doesn’t know anything...” Such practices are only detrimental to the performance of students.
Sometimes the abrupt departure of a teacher creates a crisis in the school as the administrators struggle to find a replacement soon enough.
The numerous push factors that force a disgruntled teacher to leave the profession, many choose to leave so abruptly as a way of getting back to their employers. In the end it is the students who suffer from these disruptions.
It is always wonderful for a student to be taught by a teacher who has the qualifications as well as enough experience to do the job. It is close to more than ten years since I left elementary school but some of my teachers are still teaching there.
Yet here in Rwanda I always see teachers leaving the profession so fast that I am now one of the ‘oldest’ teachers where I teach yet I have only been on the job for three years. To policy makers, school administrators and even students, this is not funny at all.