Let’s Stop Violence Against Teachers

ghana-teacher-writing-on-blackboardViolence is the intentional use or the threat of use of physical force or power against a person or a group which either results in, or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, humiliation, psychological harm, mal-development or deprivation.

There have been various advocacy campaigns against the canker of violence in its various forms. Stakeholders have drawn  attention to the detrimental effects diverse forms of violence can have on the nation.

There have been advocacy platforms on which the issue of violence against women, domestic abuse, violent crime and the need to avoid violence prior to and after the 2012 general elections, have been discussed.

However, one very important aspect of the ill effects of violence which has escaped our attention is the violence perpetrated against teachers.

Generally, teachers suffer from the various known forms of violence like assault, rape, slander and death. The Ghana National Association of Teachers has, in recent times, complained about other subtle forms of violence, like defecation in classrooms by community members, and the deliberate exposure of genitals by some males to unsuspecting female teachers.

There is an example in Ada Foah where a man goes round knocking on the doors of female teachers at night and then intentionally showing off his genitals to them when they respond to his knocking. This is a form of violence that has never been spoken about in Ghana, but the emergence of it means something must be done to arrest the canker now.

The effects of violence on people are universal and must be condemned, but the far reaching implication of violence against teachers is considered a threat to our quest to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Education for All (EFA) goals and its cascading effects on the nation’s psyche.

Teachers are very vulnerable to violence due to the peculiarities of their working environment.
Many young female teachers work in rural and underserved communities. Usually these locations are so remote that not only do they lack basic necessities like water and electricity but also ancillaries like police stations and clinics.

Many of these young teachers face the prospects of adjusting to life far away from their homes. The locations of these communities are such that access is hindered due to unmemotorable roads and  lack of adequate lighting. Teachers are rendered vulnerable because they get trapped by mobs in the event of any unrest or agitation.

The lack of safe accommodation also contributes to the problem of violence against teachers. Most rural communities where teachers work lack the requisite facilities to house teachers. Most rooms or houses rented out to teachers are either weak structurally or lack amenities like toilets and bathrooms.

Many of such houses do not have good locks to keep intruders away. There have been stories when some unscrupulous landlords give out room keys to vulnerable female teachers whiles they keep the duplicate key ostensibly to visit them at night when they think nobody is watching.

Another factor that makes Teachers prone to abuse is the isolation of schools and the lack of security on school compounds. Teachers are on record to have suffered abuse because they prevented communities from using the school compound either as thoroughfares, as markets or as animal ranches.

Teachers suffer violence from encroachers on school lands or the use of school compound as grounds for mining or winning sand. All these stem from the fact that no thought of security of pupils and teachers went into planning and designing and the location of those schools.

Language barrier can foster feuds between teachers and community members. Many teachers are posted to communities with different languages from what they (teachers) speak. They are left to use the English language or a corrupted form of the predominant language spoken in the area.

The famous phrase: “you will be posted to places where your services are needed most”, means that some teachers are posted to communities where they can neither speak nor understand the language spoken by the people.
This barrier to effective communication can be a recipe for misunderstanding, hence engender violence against teachers.

Schools are noted to be the bastions of discipline. Teachers have suffered violence in the discharge of this aspect of their duty. In days past, the schools are noted for disciplining pupils and students as such even domestic misdemeanors are referred to the school for proper redress.

Times have changed and now parents rather show aggression towards teachers who discipline their children. There may be excesses committed by teachers in their effort to keep their pupils in line. Some parents take advantage of these minimal excesses to visit violence on poor teachers, even though there are channels through which such excesses can be addressed.

The recent phenomenon of attacking teachers because of the poor performance of pupils during exams is preposterous. Teachers bear the brunt of parents and community members when their children fail in their exams. Teachers are easy targets because they are in the frontlines of the educational battle, but many forget that teachers are only responsible for only a fraction of what goes into effective learning, teaching and passing exams.

People are quick to point to how pupils in private basic schools perform relatively better with unqualified teachers than those in the public school with qualified teachers, citing the end results.

This is a misplaced criticism, because if that had been true, then private Senior High Schools should  also have been out-performing the public ones.  The caliber of pupils who attend private schools are those whose parents are ready to spend a little more of their resources viz money, time and energy on providing relevant needs.

Parents of private school pupils know and appreciate the value of education, thus offer better supervision for their wards at home. Such children are provided with the requisite environment to facilitate learning and revision of notes given at school.

Teachers are considered as ‘elites’ in most rural communities so they are considered to be people who have the wherewithal to do anything they want. The show of arrogance by some teachers and the disrespect for norms of the communities in which they teach also contribute to their falling into the snare of violence.

Many teachers have been accused of chasing people’s wives, interfering in chieftaincy disputes and squandering monies kept in their custody. While these behaviours are condemnable, communities have no business taking the law into their own hands. There are laws regulating how such incidents should be handled, as such people should not resort to taking the law into their own hands.

The harm caused by violence against teachers is the same as the effects it has on any other individual but what is of utmost concern is how it affects the output of teachers and the education of children in our communities.

First, violence or the threat of it results in teachers refusing to accept postings to such violent prone communities. Even when they accept postings to such places, they seldom stay for long, leading to instability of the educational establishments.

Violence against teachers has the tendency to affect their psychological disposition. Teachers humiliated in the presence of pupils will live them and get them scarred for life with effects on their professional delivery. Teachers in violent prone areas are always apprehensive and can hardly concentrate on their work. This emotional instability affects how they teach and how they enforce discipline in the schools.

Teachers who suffer violence are likely to shirk the disciplinary aspect of their mandate. There is the tendency of teachers in violence prone areas to allow their pupils to behave anyhow. They will relax issues like lateness to school, improper dressing and enforcement of submission of exercises and homework.

These are issues that call for  disciplinary action, but in situations where teachers are afraid, they are most likely to gloss over such infractions to the detriment of the pupils. This has dire implication for discipline not only in these communities but also the entire nation.

In order to halt this dangerous trend of violence against teachers, stakeholders must ensure that there is strict enforcement of laws regarding violence and assault. In actual fact the laws on assaults in their present state are so lax that, they offer little or no deterrent to perpetrators. Much more punitive laws that target violence against teachers must be promulgated to offer more deterring effects to people who may want to be violent.

Teachers are also advised to desist from acts that give people the opportunity to assault them. They must be advised to desist from interfering in the internal affairs of the communities in which they find themselves.

They must avoid taking sides in community feuds, chieftaincy disputes and local politics. Teachers must also abide by the code of conduct which forbids them from engaging in full frontline politics during national elections.

Provision of safe and decent accommodation for teachers in rural communities must be prioritized. This will give teachers some form of refuge in the event of trouble. Such accommodation must be sited at safe locations. Aside that, security must be provided day and night at such facilities. – Napoleon – Bonaparte Afenyo

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