Noble profession no more
Teaching is often referred to as the “noble profession”, with idealists saying it is more of a “calling” than a job.
However, the vaunted nobility of the profession has not been equally rewarded, and teachers are perennially bitter as they do not get what they deserve.
Their working conditions and remuneration are low and “not comparable with those paid in other skilled occupations of equivalent professional or even lower occupational level”, the United Nations Education and Scientific Organization and International Labour Organization have noted.
The uptake of science education has been low as potential science educators look the other way.
This has led to the SADC region, for example, faring badly in Mathematics and sciences.
The issue of remuneration is a particularly niggling point.
Teachers in the region, according to the secretary-general of the Southern Africa Teachers Organization and president of the Zimbabwe Teachers Union, Tendai Chikowore, earn an average US$500 monthly.
Although there have been problems and industrial action, notes Chikowore, countries such as Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are better off compared to Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
And it is in Zimbabwe, where teachers take home an average of US$250, that the “noble profession” has been hit hardest in recent times.
Presently, educators are mostly being supported by parents who give them cash incentives for them to attend to their classes.
And now the country’s tax authority has indicated these incentives must be taxed.
Chikowore says: “We (teachers from the region) had a meeting in South Africa on October 23 and we discussed matters of collective bargaining.
“In the near future we are going to have a workshop for the leadership (of the regional teachers’ body).
“In light of the problems that are facing teachers in the region, it is high time to engage Heads of State of SADC.
“We want to engage the ministers of finance and public service to discuss the issue of remuneration.”
She says across the region, the political leadership is not giving due attention to the concerns of teachers, something she describes as tragic.
“Salaries go hand in hand with performance,” she notes.
“If you want teachers to perform you have to make them happy.
“A teacher is responsible for 45 lives (the size of some classes) the whole year and it is a different job from sitting behind a computer, for example.
“A teacher is responsible for moulding a human being… You can’t expect that person to do that when he has frustration, hunger and anger: it is a recipe for disaster.”
Zimbabwean educationist Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu agrees.
He says teachers must be motivated and incentivized to work better.
“Governments need to provide accommodation, transport, social amenities, activity halls, electricity and solar energy.
“Science education has not been popularized in the region as those who pass sciences and Mathematics have opted to go to the fields such as medicine and engineering.
“Here they get attractive salaries.
“We need to give them incentives to venture into teaching and go to rural areas as well.”
Former Zimbabwe Education Secretary Stephen Chifunyise believes resources must be poured into the education sector.
“Some countries in the region are adopting the Nziramasanga Report (a study commissioned by the Zimbabwe Government in the late 1990s that makes recommendations on how to improve the education sector) that focuses on technical and vocational training,” he noted.
The World Bank, citing the 2002 Voluntary Service Oversees report on valuing teachers, established that “a potential crisis in the teaching profession threatens the ability of national governments to reach internationally agreed targets to expand and improve education as in many developing countries, the teaching force is demoralized and fractured”.
The report said this was because of “poor teacher management at all levels, from the Ministry of Education to the school, and teachers’ perception that the decline in their pay has adversely affected their status, both nationally and locally; delayed payment of salaries, housing shortages, insufficient upgrading opportunities, lack of learning materials, a decline of inspectorate services, and insufficient involvement of teachers’ representatives in policy making”.
Another study, in 2007, said: “Since the mid-1970s, African teachers have witnessed a continuous decline in their salaries (although it picked up a bit in the second half of the 1990s in some countries), leading to a general convergence towards the same levels throughout Africa.”
A UK Department for International Development (DfID) report entitled “Teacher motivation in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia 2007” adds: “This decline amounts on average to a halving of the teachers’ wage expressed in units of per capita GDP.”
At the moment, says the report, the wage bill “is still eating up most of the recurrent expenditures for primary education”.
“On the one hand, when salaries are too high, most of the already scarce resources of the education sector are dedicated to their payment to the detriment of either wider coverage of the education system or better provision of complementary inputs (such as textbooks for example).
“On the other hand, if teachers’ compensation becomes too low, it can be feared that teachers’ commitment to their job will be affected and that the quality of schooling will suffer the consequences of this loss of motivation.
“UNESCO (2003) suggests, based on an averaging of the characteristics of the education systems of various countries that seem to be under way to reach the EFA (Education for All) targets, that a reasonable level for an average teachers’ salary would be about 3.5 units of per capita GDP.
“If this level was to be aimed at, most African countries would indeed have to carry on decreasing the salaries paid to their teachers.”
The World Bank has been an advocate for the reduction on education expenditure saying hiring should be made at a lower cost than is currently the case, while recognizing the difficulty to reduce salaries of the existing teaching force.
Many African countries are told by the World Bank and other multilateral lenders that they must reduce their salary bills.
The DfID believes the risk of a decrease in salaries, sometimes accompanied by a decline in the status of the profession relative to others, is that teachers’ incentive to provide quality teaching might become (or remain) insufficient.
“This worry has been expressed by the UNICEF (1999) that underlines the fact that low wages drive teachers into other activities to the detriment of teaching, or by the African Development Bank (1998) that identifies low salaries as the most harmful factor for the education sector in general.
“In recent years, in many developing countries high levels of teacher turnover and absenteeism have indeed become entrenched.”
Some scholars have stated that countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are faced with difficult tradeoffs between number of teachers and level of teachers’ pay. Some countries have sought alternative, low-cost incentives as means of rewarding and motivating teachers.
These include allowances for teaching in remote areas and public recognition – but these have met with limited success.
Experts say although teachers believe they are underpaid, only 23 percent have said they thus want to leave the profession.
The most common reason for staying in the profession is personal commitment and gratification; teachers enjoy their relationships with students and take pride in contributions they make to society.
Studies suggested that far from short-term benefits of incentives increasing teachers’ salaries may be an important long-term strategy to influence the kind of people entering the profession and their commitment to it.
The private school, where there are greater prospects of further training and better salaries, could be a way.
Other strategies include improving the school and learning environment and awarding performance-based bonuses.
In 2006, the ILO and UNESCO advised that teachers’ salaries must:
(a) Reflect the importance to society of the teaching function and hence the importance of teachers as well as the responsibilities of all kinds which fall upon them from the time of their entry into service
(b) Compare favourably with salaries paid in other occupations requiring similar or equivalent qualifications
(c) Provide teachers with the means to ensure a reasonable standard of living for themselves and their families as well as to invest in further education or in the pursuit of cultural activities, thus enhancing their professional qualification.
It will take a lot of commitment from governments and society to bring back the noble profession’s former glory.