Thousands of primary and secondary school teachers across Tanzania are on strike, which has left hundreds of thousands of their students wondering what to do next.
Digging into the whys and wherefores of the sad and costly development may help, but it would pay more handsome dividends engaging in efforts likely to lead to realistic modalities of ending the current strike and minimising the possibility of similar incidents recurring.
Teachers who have decided to stay away from work, with some making little more than technical appearances largely for convenience’s sake, have done so chiefly because no deal has been struck with the government on their demands for better working conditions.
This is not the first time negotiations on the matter have ended in deadlock, with teachers either threatening to resort to “industrial action” or actually downing their tools.
So, we are by no means short of experience in dealing with strikes by disgruntled workers, only that it doesn’t appear that we have learnt enough lessons from this history to handle repeats of the scenarios less clumsily or more professionally and efficiently.
Could casting glances across our borders help, perhaps? For instance, teachers in Kenya staged a strike in September last year, citing overcrowding of classrooms.
Associated Press reported that the 200,000-plus teachers were protesting the diversion of government funds meant to hire more teachers and ease classroom overcrowding. Apparently, the money was directed to the Defence ministry, whose spending is never publicly scrutinised.
The news agency quoted the Kenya National Union of Teachers as vowing that the protest, which was set to affect more than 10 million children in primary and secondary schools, would continue until the government agreed to hire more teachers.
In a situation where some 79,000 teachers were needed to reach the internationally recommended teacher-to-student ratio of one teacher to 35 students, when the average in public schools then was 50 to 100 students per teacher, many had no problem buying the teachers’ position.
This was especially so because they found the consequences of such a scenario as clear as daylight, one relating to the fact that teachers usually have hardly any time for poor children in overcrowded public school classrooms while children in private schools enjoy top-level attention.
It would be interesting to see how this compares with what teachers in Tanzania see as their main reservations – and how seriously the government and the larger society take those concerns.
As noted, workers’ demands for a better deal in the face of harsh working conditions including “starvation wages” are only to be expected and are therefore perfectly understandable.
Therefore, we stand convinced that negotiations should continue to seriously address the factors hindering the relevant parties from agreeing on a formula to ensure the problems in question do not recur – at least not with the viciousness they often are known for, including denying innocent school children their right to education.
One of the all-important questions is: Who will compensate these children and their parents or guardians for the massive loss they will have suffered at the end of it all? The fact is that no amount or level of compensation would be good enough.