A controversial news story appeared in one of the Kiswahili serious daily newspapers last week and attracted my attention. Since it was on education, a subject of public interest, for one reason or another, but mainly because matters pertaining to education affect many parents and children, other readers might have noted it as well.
The report was on a meeting of officials and teachers engaged in the education sector in Magu District, Mwanza Region, which among other things reviewed the performance of students in the latest examinations.
While closing the event, the Executive Director of Magu District Council is reported to have issued an order that disciplinary action should be taken against head teachers of the last ten poorly performing schools in the district.
The director reportedly had good news for primary schools which did well in the exams. Instructions were also given that letters of appreciation should be written to the teachers of the best 12 performing schools in order to motivate.
Most observers of this incident may have no problem regarding the second instruction of recognition and appreciation of teachers whose schools performed well in exams. The initiative does no one any harm and is, indeed, positive. In most cases there is a tendency of ignoring such small gestures which mean a lot to workers wherever they may be.
However, taking disciplinary measures against teachers on the basis of examination results is very controversial. This is because it is based on the assumption that whenever students in a certain school do not do well in examinations, then the fault is with the teachers, and the best way to fix the problem is to put them to task.
It is true teachers are among the key components which make a school worth a name. You may even say they are the most important, but other factors like availability of books and other teaching materials, good syllabi and a good learning environment also have a very important role to play in determining the performance of any given school.
Hence, the decision whether teachers of school X should be punished for their students’ poor performance in exams while those of school Y should be rewarded because their students have excelled in the same exams requires first to do some homework to determine whether it is only the laziness of teachers which is behind the poor performance. It is only when this procedure has been thoroughly undertaken that teachers in poorly performing schools may be put to task.
In any case, using the criteria of examination results to punish teachers might as well reflect the malfunctioning or a breakdown of the administrative mechanism in our schools.
School inspection to monitor how the teachers are doing their work and periodic reports on the performance of teachers are some of the well known and acknowledged administrative procedures supposed to guide that in-charge of the education sector on how to deal with teachers. Taking any other shortcuts is as questionable as it is undesirable.
Interestingly, the very newspaper which published the story on punishing alleged lazy teachers carried another one on teachers owed about Sh1.2 bn in salary arrears by Mwanza City Council.
The source of this information was the spokesperson of Mwanza branch, of the National Union of Teachers, who revealed that there is a tendency by authorities to pay the arrears in small installments, thus causing much inconvenience to the affected employees.
The spokesperson also pointed out that sometimes the teachers spend a lot of time chasing their much needed money instead of teaching.
These two statements with two different but related messages on teachers in the same region, speak volumes. Here are our teachers who continue to be victims of poor employer-employee relations, but are accused of lack of work commitment. This is, indeed, a big contradiction which has been a source of the on-and-off teachers’ strikes in the country for a long time.
A few things are clear here. The allegation that lack of commitment by teachers is one of the reasons behind the poor performance of many schools may have an element of truth, thus calling for more attention in addressing their problems. A time tested formula of applying a stick and carrot mix may eventually be more fruitful in addressing this problem, instead of resorting to punishment and intimidation alone.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant(firstname.lastname@example.org)