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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Teachers as agents of social change

2nd May 2012
With appropriate training and improved working conditions, teachers can be effective change agents within the school system and the society at large. (File photo)

I remember before and after independence, how teachers’ social status was very high in terms of their working conditions as well as respect in the society. There are many cases where teachers were called by village elders to help resolve some very important issues as well as provide advice on various issues.

It is also said that whenever two people did not agree on any issue, they would call a teacher to provide a relevant answer to the argument.

Members of the society regarded teachers as educated people who could be depended upon to contribute ideas and guide society members towards improved livelihoods. Teachers owned good houses, bicycles, good clothes, improved farming practices and many more.

The above information depicts that in many societies teachers are looked upon as individuals who can help to bring about positive changes in the lives of people. They are seen as natural leaders who can give advice on various affairs of the communities. Within the context of their direct interaction with children, parents and communities, teachers and educators could play several major roles as change agents.

It goes without saying that teachers are responsible for the change that takes place in learners. Their words and actions trigger positive behavioural and attitudinal changes in learners. But teachers’ role as change agents is not limited to the school setting and their learners.

In the communities where literacy rate is low and people are not aware of their rights and responsibilities, lack ideas on good health habits, development perspectives, local teachers can act as change agents. Because teachers are conscious and educated, they can cause change to take place in the community settings.

An ILO report mentions three areas where teachers can act as change agents:

a) Frontline monitors and “child watchers”. Teachers are well positioned to identify the school-age children in the community, to encourage parents to enroll them in school, to provide children with an interesting learning environment and to assist them with their educational problems and needs.

Schools are also responsible for monitoring non-enrolment and absences and teachers and other educational personnel need to be empowered to monitor children’s school attendance, assess whether they are involved in work and to what extent this interferes with their schooling, and identify children who are at risk of dropping out. They can then contact parents and provide help to these children.

b) Community resource persons to advocate for children’s rights. Teachers can be powerful advocates in the campaign for promotion of children’s rights. They can act as resource persons who can inform children, parents and communities of the importance of education and the harmful effects of issues such as child labour and early marriages on children and society.

c) Catalyst for change in the education system. Through their own organisations and in cooperation with other trade unions, children’s and women’s rights networks, community organizations and other NGOs, teachers and educators can collaborate with each other and with other organisations to work on curriculum development to strengthen the school management system and to advocate for policy reform that addresses various factors contributing to the exclusion of children from school.

Teachers could set up a network among themselves and identify other forums, networks or associations which could support them to influence change in educational policy and practices.

Laxman Gnawali, reports that in Nepal, mainly in rural setting teachers are looked up to by local people for their education. The respect gets better when the children go to schools and tell their parents all good things about their teachers. For kids, anything teachers tell is 100% true; they tend to defend their arguments saying: My teacher says so. So, many teachers in Nepal try to send messages to illiterate parents through these kids.

Most messages are about health habits, girl’s education, early marriages, use of modern tools, improved farming etc. Students learn pre-vocational subjects in grades six and seven. They work with wooden materials, knitting, weaving, cookery, sewing etc. for which teachers ask children to try to get help from their parents so that some parents may indirectly learn these skills.

When there are celebrations in the family, teachers from the local school are always invited. The conversations between the teachers and the parents are about moral things.

Majority of Nepalese teachers in rural areas are non-smokers as they think they are role models in the community. No wonder that cigarettes have a very poor market in the villages. As English teachers have of the luxury of knowing non-local language and culture, they bring in more change elements in to the communities.

Teachers can also become agents of change by providing guidance to the students and society in general on various issues such as healthy living, career guidance, assuming leadership roles, counseling students and parents on various developmental issues.

The curriculum taught at school bears the objective of transmitting knowledge and skills to students, who at the end could support change within their households and later at the societal level. Teachers become very important in ensuring students obtain adequate skills and knowledge which will support their personal and societal change.

One day I read a very interesting phrase about teachers: “the most interesting work of teachers is like supporting metamorphosis of a larvae to turn into a butterfly”, this depicts that teachers receive children with various behaviors, skills and knowledge from home and moulds them into morally skilled and educated people who in the end become accepted members and important people in society, who are expected to support their households and society’s development.

In order for teachers to become positive active agents of change, they need to be informed and learn about the complexities of various socio-economic issues – the causes and the solutions. Moreover, they need to have adequate academic and pedagogical as well as moral skills and knowledge.

One of the inhibiting factors for Tanzanian teachers to become agents of change in society is the lack of ethics, adequate skills and knowledge. William Anangisye argues that teachers’ education in Tanzania and other nations must prepare and produce not only academically and pedagogically competent teachers, but also professional teachers able to live up to the highest moral standards of their teaching profession.

Teacher education is a framework through which trainee teachers are oriented to, amongst others; understand what is “good” and what is “bad” or what is “wrong” and what is “right” with reference to day-to-day teaching commitments. The orientation is very important and inevitable for several reasons.

Anangisye further argues that trainee teachers from a morally deprived society in which, related misdeeds, corruption, and theft are pervasive can be affected by these social evils in some way. Moreover, upon graduation these trainee teachers (now in colleges) have to work in already corrupt communities, a situation compounded by the fact that they have to work with unprofessional teachers and other corrupt or irresponsible members of the public. In such a scenario, one has just to imagine the type of candidates that teacher training colleges in Tanzania receive.

To a large extent teachers in Tanzania have lost their credibility to become agents of change. We have heard of cases where teachers have raped or impregnated their students, stole things, going to classes while drunk, fighting and many other unethical deeds.

Moreover, apart from the unethical deeds and behaviour of teachers, the working and living conditions of teachers are very poor such that they are demeaned their status in the society. With such situations they can no longer have that power of supporting change in society.

It is vital that teachers’ status in the society is promoted in order for them to support change in socio-economic development. With appropriate training and improved working conditions, teachers can be effective change agents within the school system and the society at large. A teacher must have been changed himself according to accepted standard morals then he might be able to change the others and finally the society.

The writer is a specialist in education management, planning, economics of education and financing, and policy studies. He can be reached through: [email protected] or 0754304181.

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