Examining the causes of teacher-absenteeism

A research conducted and disseminated by the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) Ghana recently unsurprisingly indicts and blames teachers on sandwich courses (and perhaps distance education courses) for absenteeism leading to falling standards and poor performance of pupils in public schools.

It is unsurprising for the CDD to arrive at such a conclusion because the argument that teachers on sandwich courses absent themselves from school has already gained a lot of currency.

many teachers engage in distance education courses mostly at the University of Cape Coast and the University of Education, Winneba to upgrade and sharpen their skills. Distance education programmes are mounted for weekends where students can meet to have lecutures, take quizzes and write examinations.

Sandwich programmes are mounted during long vacation of the universities usually between June and August of every calendar year. Opportunities for upgrading have become very difficult to come by for teachers since the wholesale study leave with pay policy was abolished not too long ago.

One compelling excuse for the abolishment of the wholesale study leave programme is the fact that a lot of teachers leave their work in pursuit of higher education to the detriment of the pupils they teach, causing perennial shortage of active personnel in the Ghana Education Service.

Also since government was facing problem funding the old study leave with pay policy, there was a need to develop a module which will enable teachers upgrade themselves without necessarily leaving their work unattended to.

In response to this, the University of Cape Coast started mounting distance education programmes for teachers and other professionals. Initially, there was commitment from government to fund part of tuition for teachers who agree to enroll on the distance education programme in order to encourage them to opt for that module instead of the study leave with pay.

It was a win –win solution because the distance education module opened opportunity for further studies and subsequent upgrading for teachers and it also guarantees that there will be adequate number of teachers in the classrooms to teach the up and coming generation. This arrangement of tuition payment by government however could not be sustained and teachers have to bear the cost of their upgrading.

It must be put on record that one very important factor aside monetary enticement that made a lot of people gravitate towards the teaching profession was the avenues for further studies and upgrading which in most cases go with some little upward adjustment in salary.

In the past, many people started as pupil teachers, got opportunity to enroll in Teacher Training Colleges and graduate as fully fledged certificated teachers. Many people who went to the Training Colleges with ‘O’ levels eventually had to study privately to pass their ‘A’ levels in order to gain admission into the universities for further training.

These were not different from what is going on today. A lot of prominent people holding very key positions today went through this trajectory. The event of teachers seeking further studies and upgrading did not start today but has always being a phenomenon in our education set up.

It must also be noted clearly that distance courses are not meant for teachers alone but a lot of professionals, from lawyers, police and other civil and public servants also engage in them as a means of upgrading themselves. On the average school closes at 2:30pm while in most civil and public services closing time is mostly 4:30pm.

Meanwhile many of them attend evening classes and prepare for the rigours of academic life while in active service. Between the other professionals and teachers who has more time to spare?

Even some Ministers of State are said to be taking full time courses from higher institutions while still retaining their portfolios as Ministers and Deputy Ministers. Why then should teachers taking courses on weekends and vacation even become an issue?

In the past, it was part and parcel of teachers’ condition of service to be given some time off for the purposes of writing examinations. In such cases the teachers leave active work to prepare for examinations, all in an effort to make them better teachers.

The current dispensation is not different from the previous arrangement. Even so the current arrangement does not take teachers out during week days but on weekends.

Mr. Jacob Kor, the Director General of GES, has cause to grant permission for some teachers on sandwich programmes to finish up their studies before reporting back to duty. It is normal and a good thing to do and I commend the Director General for this gracious offer.

Teachers do not spend all their time in school actively teaching. They prepare lesson notes, teach, supervise class work, mark exercises, attend to the needs of pupils but they also rest. Why can’t a teacher read through his course materials at break time?

We have promoted education since independence and at College, student teachers are always admonished to seek knowledge and improve upon their skills. Many teachers are seeking further studies only in fulfillment of our quest as a nation to seek knowledge and always aspire to higher heights.

Teachers always take the flack for poor performance of pupils. Yes, this can be the case to some extent. Just like any human institution, there are bad, average and excellent teachers. These strata of teachers must be identified by researchers and addressed on an independent basis.

It is rather increasingly becoming a phenomenon where the same prejudiced stick is used to beat all teachers regardless of who is doing well or not. Teachers play a pivotal role in educational outcomes, so do parents, the community and other institutions of state like the GES and the District Assemblies.

Many other factors are responsible for teacher absenteeism besides teachers engaging in distance and sandwich courses. It will, therefore, be interesting to know how researchers are able to delimit all these almost limitless factors and measure accurately how teachers engaging in distance courses alone largely contribute to absenteeism.

Everybody talks about falling standards of education but nobody discusses the drastic fall in the service conditions of teachers. People hardly discuss the fact that a lot of inputs like chalk and registers fail to reach schools in time.

People hardly discuss the fact that subvention to schools in the form of feeding grants and capitation always come very late. People hardly talk about how pupils fail to do their homework or revise their notes because of ‘Dumsor’.

Researchers are hardly interested in finding out how massive parental neglect has led to the lowering of educational standards. People hardly point out the fact that many teachers have worked diligently for more than two years and have been paid only three months’ salary for their service.

The media hardly highlight the fact that fringe incentives like best teacher awards have been in arrears for more than four years in some districts. People hardly discuss the rapid dwindling in the value of the much acclaimed single spine salary paid to teachers and other workers owing to cascading increases in fuel, utilities and other service charges.

The public is always being incited against teachers but hardly are they told that circuit supervisors who are supposed to check them don’t even have bicycles to work with.

Teachers taking distance and sandwich courses cannot be entirely blamed for the absenteeism of teachers and for that matter lowering standards. In the era where getting study leave with pay to pursue further studies is becoming increasingly difficult, teachers have no choice but to rely on the distance and sandwich programmes. It is the only way they can also fulfil their mission for academic and social mobility. It is also less costly to government.

Teachers who deliberately take advantage of the situation to absent themselves on Mondays and Fridays must be dealt with as individuals on their own merit or demerit but any attempt to lump all teachers together and classify them as lazy and prone to absenteeism will be resisted.

Currently, there are measures put in place to check absenteeism of teachers. Headteachers and Circuit Supervisors must be well resourced to play their supervisory roles well. Maybe it is about time we also concentrate on pupil absenteeism as well.

Observers and commentators on education only hit on teachers because they are the softest targets and mostly defenseless. This approach of whipping public sentiments against teachers will always be counterproductive.

Objectivity should rule in any discussion concerning education for the role of teachers in uplifting standards. The CDD is welcome to conduct more researches targeting how the neglect of schools and pupils by parents and government has also led to the lowering of standards over the last few years.

By Napoleon-Bonaparte Afenyo

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