Tuesday, October 06, 2009

World Teachers' Day - Zambian teachers face real challenges

This article is from The Post, Zambia. It outlines the difficulties facing teachers in Zambia. The Thembinkosi Foundation, through its range of outreach projects in Kazungula and Livingstone will seek to empower Zambian teachers through the provision of In Service Training and Professional Development for local teachers. We will work in partnership with schools and administrators in order to ensure that we can help to break the cycle of poverty through education.

'Every year on October 5, the world commemorates World Teachers Day. It cannot be denied that teachers have contributed heavily to the development of the world by ensuring that qualified manpower is nurtured from a tender age through the provision of basic elementary education which is the basic of all individuals in order to attain higher professional qualifications.
Most of the childhood years are spent at school. It is for this reason that teachers are considered to be parents of the pupils they teach. Years spent at school are part of memories for many people, be it sad or happy.
In Zambia, the welfare of teachers lags behind in comparison to other countries. It is not surprising to hear some highly educated people in government declare that teachers are unproductive hence no need to pay them well. Nonetheless, the productivity of teachers is seen in the highly qualified manpower which is the basis of any strong economy in the world. In line with this year’s theme “Build the Future, Invest in Education”. For any meaningful development to take place in a country there is need to have qualified personnel and this is only possible if teachers are involved at all levels of education.
In recent years, teachers in Zambia have continued to upgrade themselves academically. Just after independence, the country had very few qualified teachers; this led to employing of school leavers to teach in some schools. This went on until the late 1990s. To date the teaching profession in Zambia boast of having the highest number of highly qualified personnel. A few years ago Diploma holders were deployed to teach in high schools but things have changed and we now have many degree holders in most high schools.
Additionally, government has played a very pivotal role by upgrading some teachers’ college of education into universities. This will increase the number of highly qualified teachers. Furthermore, the introduction of distance education programmes at universities and other colleges have opened opportunities for many teachers to upgrade their qualifications. Nevertheless, the government is doing little in helping the teachers acquire higher qualifications due to constraints in financing the education of already serving teachers. Most teachers are sacrificing their low incomes to supplement their education. I believe government needs to come on board and offer sponsorship to many teachers.
In celebrating World Teachers Day, it is important that the various challenges affecting teachers are enlightened in order to fully appreciate the role our teachers have continued to play in our country under difficult circumstances.
In Urban areas, the greatest challenge is housing. After independence most schools had enough houses which were built with assistance from the World Bank. However, the increase in population in our country has resulted into most schools being upgraded to accommodate more pupils, this has also meant that more teachers have been employed. However, the upgrading of most schools has not marched with the increasing demand of houses by teachers. This has forced many teachers to live in substandard houses. A long time ago, shanty compounds in Zambia were considered to be dens for mischievous citizens but today these same illegal compounds are home to teachers and other professionals.
Currently, housing allowances provided by the government is inadequate as compared to the rental charges and it is not paid on time. Most landlords in Zambia today demand to be paid in advance but the government has failed to do so as can be seen by the huge amounts owed to teachers in housing allowances dating from 2003. It is important that the government speeds up the process of building houses in schools or empower teachers with mortgages to build or buy houses. Teacher unions can also supplement government efforts by empowering teachers with accommodation.
In rural areas, teachers have continued to face various challenges which have contributed to the high rate of rural urban drift of teachers. After 45 years of independence, our country still has grass-thatched schools as houses for teachers in rural areas. It is imaginable for a highly qualified professionals to live in a mud house in this century. Additionally, most rural schools lack basic necessities such as clean water, transport and communication network, electricity and health services. Surprisingly, most rural teachers in Zambia have been deprived of rural hardship allowances since last year. The government is doing very little in attracting more teachers to serve in rural areas. It is vital that rural retention incentives are given to teachers in rural areas such as vehicle loans, solar systems and an attractive rural hardship allowance. Most rural schools have continued to record poor results due to shortage of manpower. A critical analysis on the distribution of labour force in the ministry of education will show that most urban schools are over staffed while rural areas are extremely understaffed. It is not surprising in rural areas to find a single teacher teaching the entire school. This is overworking a teacher and compromising the quality of education.
The professional conduct of teachers has greatly improved in our country though there is need for the teaching service commission to be decentralised. Currently, the teaching service commission in Lusaka is responsible for promoting, demoting, retiring and confirming teachers; this has led into delays to address matters affecting teachers. Furthermore, the poor work culture in human resource department at district level has also contributed to delays.It is common knowledge by all teachers that you cant have a problem solved at the offices without making many follow ups.This is retrogressive and those in authority need to bring change.
Teacher unions have lamentably failed to live up to the expectations of their members. It is no secret that these unions have the largest membership hence being financially sound but there are the weakest in the country. It is not surprising that the power struggles in unions have led to breakups and formation of many irrelevant unions. Teacher unions will never achieve anything tangible for their members as long as disunity continues. Additionally, all unions need to improve in transparency and accountability.
The teaching fraternity has continued to face various challenges in our country though we have recorded success in our education system. It is the sacrifice of these noble men and women who are striving to help the government achieve the millennium development goals under very difficult conditions of service. It is therefore necessary to all of us who value education to embrace the sacrifice and wish all teachers a happy World Teachers Day. For sure to build the future we need to invest in education now and this is only possible if teachers remain committed and motivated to continue doing the nation proud, Happy World Teachers Day.'

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