If You Can Read This, Thank A Teacher.

It is always said that a good teacher is like a candle- it consumes itself to light the way for others. It may sound like flogging a dead horse, but our teachers have been in the news lately, for all the wrong reasons. I agree if you feel that the issue is dead and buried and time to move; but perhaps we need to take a torch to the whole issue of corruption involving our teachers from a causal perspective.  Why do our teachers, in such a very noble profession that shapes the character, calibre, and future of an individual, engage in corruption? This piece is not aimed as a devil’s advocate, but an attempt to cast a glance here. The recent corruption parade that was orchestrated by the ACC was regrettable. But we will be barking at the wrong tree if we turn a blind eye to the perennial issues that engender such a situation.

We must admit, that in order to teach, one needs to be passionate about it. Over the years, successive governments have treated this profession like a Cinderella service. It has been continually relegated to the lowest rung of the civil ecosystem; and prominently so after the war. In restructuring the already collapsed services, it seems like less attention was paid to education. The perceived vacuum was capitalised on, with an avalanche of private schools mushrooming untethered, all over the country. At face value, it felt like laudable efforts by private citizens to resuscitate the schools system. Sadly, education was rather seen as the surest and fastest way to fatten the cash cows. It was left in the hands of individuals to pick up the slack from the already crumbling system, as many, not all lined up their pockets with tear-soaked cash from suffering parents. With the governments taking their eye off the ball, many schools were allowed to sprout unregulated, in every nook and cranny of the country. You wonder what the requirements to do so were.

In my day, we had inspectors of schools, whose primary duties were to ensure that school curricula, standards of education and performance were regulated and maintained. A pending visit from the inspector of schools was any principal or headmaster’s/headmistress’ nightmare. But those were the good days. The recent results of our public exams are a perfect balance sheet of our educational system. It was dismal to say the least. The contributing factors are numerous, and may take years for reconstructive surgery.

But where does corruption fit in all these? There is no question that our teachers are one of  the most overworked and underpaid professionals in human food chain. We have known for far too long that teachers go for months on end without pay. So when you have a teacher, whose only source of income is from his/her salary, and when that teacher goes for months without salary, can anyone give me a magic formula on how that teacher is supposed to survive, not to talk about live a descent life? Just to prove a point in the recent past; how many teachers downed tools and the comfort of their classrooms to work for African Minerals? When African Minerals was at its height in the country, it is an undeniable fact many teachers left their profession to work in the hot burning sun, laying railway sleepers for a descent wage. The average salary for a manual worker at African Minerals then was about Le 3 million monthly. You do the maths. All you needed to qualify was strong muscles and the ability to understand some sign language from the Chinese foreman.

This piece is not aimed at making an excuse for the corruption of our teachers, nor an attempt to minimise the seriousness of their behaviour. Nevertheless, some may agree that the conditions of service for our teachers leave them with little incentive to resist corruption; especially in an atmosphere where the immortal and immoral adage of the late Pa Sheki’s “Usai den tie cow……..” portends. Some may argue that the situation for our teachers is no different from other civil servants. That may be true to some extent. But judging by the corruption Richter scale, you cannot compare the guy at Queen Elizabeth 11 Quay (Wata quay) with your ordinary teacher. That’s not a carte blanche for the guy at Wata quay either.

We are not asking for our teachers to be treated like sacred cows, nor as UNESCO- protected species. What most people would want is for our teachers to be paid at least minimum LIVING WAGE and to be paid ON TIME. No one is suggesting that paying them a living wage and on time will end the scourge of corruption. However, it will go a long way towards reducing it. What we are attributing to teachers is also true for our civil service, but with a difference. If our country is to become corruption free and a nation of beautiful minds, we need to do so with three key members: the father, the mother and the teacher. Teachers are one of the first people who can make the earliest impressions with lasting implications on the adult’s life. Sometimes, our teachers need the inspiration to remind them why they do what they do; for there can be no greater form of optimism than teaching.

Picture this a minute. A teacher is expected to not only teach a student to pass exams but also to become upright citizens. But at a very early stage and during their tutelage, that student is made to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil of corruption. Considering that such a student is expected to grow and become a doctor, a lawyer and worse still a politician, what hope is there for the next generation; when that child has been fed on a diet of corruption as normal and accepting? Do we think that most of our corrupt politicians and public servants became corrupt overnight, or became corrupt only when they became politicians? Corruption is not innate; it is an expensively acquired taste that can last from cradle to grave, but much to the detriment of us all.

We should therefore unashamedly condemn it in all its forms, and more so for our teachers who serve as midwives and construction artists for the next generation of upright and meaningful citizens. Our teachers are one of the strongest pillars of our society, and if our society is going to be successful, much credit is due in part to them. With corrupt teachers, we run the risk of employing unqualified and unfit persons for positions of trust. We also run the risk of mass producing a generation that could be unfit for purpose; hence destroy any genuine foundations on which to build for the future. We also run the risk of giving the pipes to the wrong smokers; as if that is not happening already. Where are nepotism, tribalism, and connectocracy?

But before we rush into an orgy of condemnation for our teachers, let us take a look at what it feels like to be a teacher in our country today. Do they carry the same respect that they used to have in my day? Are they seen as the ultimate moral compass in today’s genre? Should we treat our teachers better? Have they earned such respect in the first place? Do our teachers have any sense of job satisfaction and reward from the “tremendous” job they are doing. If not, why not? Teaching may not be a lost art, but the regard for it is fast becoming a lost tradition. It’s so sad.

President Bio recognised the need for a structured, sound and quality education. There is no doubt that his Free Quality Education programme is an expensive luxury that any country can ill afford. In spite of this, he has boldly persevered with this programme. But for it to succeed, it will need everyone from parents, teachers, and students etc. to work together for a common goal. It is one thing to promise and provide Free Quality Education, but it is an entirely different thing to bring it to fruition. The value of such a programme will be measured by the quality of its products. To measure such quality will depend on what is churned out from our institutions.

So the next time the ACC wants to expose our criminal teachers, perhaps we can temper justice with some mercy and consideration, by paying our teachers a minimum living wage, in a regular and timely manner. No matter how small the salary is, just knowing that you will be paid on a specific date can be a powerful aphrodisiac and antidote for being broke. When you expect payment on a definite date of the month, that hope is sometimes all you need to ride out stormy days. A similar approach can be used for all public services. It’s easier said than done, I know. With our current economic situation, it might sound delusional. Some delusions do come to pass, and there is nothing criminal to wish, hope and dream.

We know that the government reportedly has little economic breathing space. But if President Bio’s government can ensure that all teachers are PAID ON TIME, no matter how small, they would have held their part of the bargain. It may not eradicate corruption, but it will go some way to deprive some corrupt teachers of the oxygen and excuse that fan the flames of corruption in the profession. And while we are at it, is it time to bring back those heavily moustached inspectors of schools? We can guarantee free education, but we cannot guarantee QUALITY education, if we don’t have a robust system to measure such quality. I think it’s time to bring back those inspectors and hope that they are allergic to corruption and the Usai Den Tie Cow syndrome.

If you can read this, you know who to thank. But if you think that education is expensive, try ignorance.

God Bless My Teacher, and …………..Farmers.

Don’t forget to turn the lights off, when you leave the room.


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