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4IR dream for Africa will collapse unless teachers are better rewarded

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Picture: Mike Hutchings/REUTERS – Night falls over radio telescope dishes of the KAT-7 Array near Carnavon in the Northern Cape. The plight of teachers throughout the world is more difficult than it used to be. The world has changed but the system has not kept pace nor ensured that teachers are part of the solution, the writer says.

By Edwin Naidu

Teachers, probably along with nurses and other public servants, are among the least appreciated and most unrewarded people on the African continent. Yet their roles are far more important than the credit they receive. The future of our continent depends on them.

How much of appreciation they are shown is an investment in the children of Africa they are nurturing to become leaders of tomorrow.

But gradually, the image of the teacher as a pillar of society, the unofficial parents to whom millions of Africans daily entrust their children, has eroded. Increasingly, their working conditions have deteriorated. This has affected the quality of work and perhaps, impacted as well the desire and discipline of the people they are meant to teach.

When it comes to appreciation, the teacher has become an insignificant entity in a world that has changed and forgotten about this once special being. In six weeks, the spotlight will fall on those hailed by many as their inspiration and role models on October 5, World Teacher’s Day.

But the recognition given to teachers has diminished to the point where they’re no longer recognised as people pivotal to shaping the minds of millions of people on the Continent. We certainly take them for granted.

World Teachers’ Day is held annually to celebrate teachers around the globe. One of the targets around education in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals implores governments to “make teaching an attractive, first-choice profession with continuing training and development by improving teachers’ professional status, working conditions and support”.

Throughout Africa, evidence of this is not visible. What happened in Rwanda last month, when the Prime Minister of Rwanda, Dr Edouard Ngirente, announced a 40 percent increase for secondary school teachers and an 88 percent salary hike for primary school teachers in a bid to improve the quality of education and welfare of teachers, which was a diversion from the norm.

As one of the leading countries on the continent in the Information and Communications Technology sector, Rwanda has set the pace when it comes to e-commerce and e-services, mobile technologies, applications development and automation to becoming a regional centre for training top quality ICT professionals. The government has recognised that teachers are the heartbeat of the nation’s supply chain to ensure a solid future pipeline to success.

A recent study has shown that teachers make $100 per month in the Democratic Republic of Congo, $220 in Liberia, $401 in Niger, $656 in Ghana, $805 in Tanzania, $1,639 in Zambia, and $2,306 in Namibia. Sadly, the recent intervention by Rwanda is not the standard on how educators are treated throughout Africa. The reality makes for sad reading. Teachers, throughout the continent are demoralised, according to “Rural teachers in Africa: A report for International Labour Organisation”, prepared by the Centre for International Teacher Education.

While the report was released in 2015, the issues are as relevant today, corroborated by a journal article in March 2022 on the issue of teachers remuneration. The ILO study stressed that teachers dissatisfied with their jobs and poorly motivated are not likely to perform.

It found that poor behaviour and performance of teachers was reported to have reached crisis levels in some countries with the key indicators of this low and declining learning outcomes, high rates of teacher attrition and teacher absenteeism, low time-on-task, frequent strikes and other forms of industrial action, and widespread teacher misconduct.

The voices of teachers in the report are telling. In Uganda an educator wrote: Facilities do not match enrolment, leading to overcrowded classrooms and high pupil–teacher ratios – a teacher may have to manage a class of 100-plus children for the whole day. Some teachers are underqualified; the numbers were overwhelming when the universal primary education programme started.

But the government is rectifying this with in- service teacher training. The curriculum needs overhauling into one that is more relevant to society. Today, it is more exam oriented, so children are only taught to pass exams instead of learning to become people of character and integrity, and identifying talents to do things they love in future. The country is producing people for jobs they are not passionate about.

A teacher from Angola also alluded to overcrowding, saying that the country’s civil war had left it without enough classrooms and teachers. “We are much luckier than the rural areas, where teaching takes place under trees. We have children who come to school on an empty stomach and others who bring lunch.

“Last year, we allowed a trader to sell snacks in the playground during breaks, but that just made matters worse. Because of the huge differences in the incomes of the parents, we can only ask them to contribute about 300 kwanzas (US$3 in 2011) per term for materials, which leaves us unable to provide textbooks for everyone,” the teacher said.

In Ghana, the focus on teaching has shifted to providing quality education, particularly to out-of-school children, girls, orphans and children with special needs. But, this is a challenge, especially in rural areas. Although English is the official language of Ghana, it is an everyday educational challenge for teachers and students. Exams, assessments, the curriculum and teaching are in English.

But most students rarely speak English anywhere else but the classroom. Overcrowding is also a challenge. Most pupils have never seen a computer but the curriculum requires that they study information and communication technology (ICT).

In Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, the country has rehabilitated many schools, decentralised and renewed the school administration system, and started giving free school books. New teachers’ colleges were set up. Salaries have not kept up with the cost of living.

A teacher living more than 4km from a school in Juba, South Sudan, said there was no transport. Classes are overcrowded, making it difficult to teach and to get children to focus on their lessons. Some children, who have returned from the north to South Sudan, only speak Arabic, so teaching and making them understand is an uphill task. There is also a shortage of teaching materials and textbooks for the students. Often, students arrive late to class, which disrupts lessons.

In addition, as the school has no boundary wall or fence, vehicles drive through the compound, which further distracts the children. Last, despite the rising cost of living, teacher salaries are still low.

The ILO report stressed that improved incentives and working and living conditions for teachers should be a top priority in almost every country. But evidence over the last decade points to salary as a key factor (though not the only one) in the success of high-performing education systems. Conversely, there is a loss of prestige for the teaching profession where teacher salaries are not perceived as commensurate with levels of education, training and responsibilities. Salaries that do not achieve even the basic household poverty line in very low-income countries result in teacher recruitment difficulties, absenteeism and low teacher performance.

In their journal article “Teacher pay in Africa: Evidence from 15 countries”, academics David K Evans, Fei Yuan and Deon Filmer found that in seven countries, teachers’ monthly earnings are lower than other formal sector workers with comparable levels of education and experience.

“In all seven of those countries, teachers report working significantly fewer hours than other workers, such that hourly earnings are significantly lower for teachers in only one country. Of the 13 country surveys that report non-pecuniary benefits, teachers are more likely to receive at least one benefit than other workers in 11. Teachers are nearly two times more likely to hold a second job than other workers. The academics are from the Centre for Global Development, US, Harvard Graduate School of Education, US and the World Bank.

Countries studied include Côte d’Ivoire, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zambia with data from national labour force surveys; Burkina Faso, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria and Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia and Senegal.

The article found that pay levels for public sector workers — and especially teachers — are a constant source of controversy. In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, protests and strikes suggest that pay is low, while comparisons to average national income per capita suggest that it is high. The study presents data on teacher earnings from 15 African countries. The results suggest that in several (seven) countries, teachers’ monthly earnings are lower than other formal sector workers with comparable levels of education and experience.

However, in all those countries, teachers report working significantly fewer hours than other workers, such that hourly earnings are significantly lower for teachers in only one country.

The study documents non-pecuniary benefits (such as medical insurance or a pension) for teachers relative to other workers: of the 13 country surveys that report non-pecuniary benefits, teachers are more likely to receive at least one benefit than other workers in 11.

Teachers who report fewer hours are no more likely to report holding a second job, although teachers overall are nearly two times more likely to hold a second job than other workers.

Nonetheless, after taking hours and non-pecuniary benefits into account, there was no evidence that teachers are systematically underpaid in this sample of countries.

But there is no doubt that the plight of teachers throughout the world is more difficult than it used to be. The curriculum has not changed, educator aids are not easily accessible, too many workshops and little action, increased focus on administration. The world has changed but the system has not kept pace nor ensured that teachers are part of the solution.

Governments throughout Africa plead poverty as reflected by declining budgets on education.

In most cases, the most important work of uplifting the profession is undertaken by civil society or multinationals, one excellent example being the Microsoft Partners in Learning programme which since 2003 has invested hundreds of millions in teacher development and resources for schools throughout the world.

Furthermore, they have recognised teachers throughout Africa for bringing innovation into the classrooms. While welcome, it is not entirely incumbent on the software giant to be the change. Governments must do better, and follow the Rwandan example, or else the foundation on which the Fourth Industrial Revolution is premised is doomed to failure. Teachers must be loved and respected, given the resources they need to teach and be paid what they’re worth.

* Naidu is a seasoned journalist and communications expert. He also heads up Higher Education Media Services – a social enterprise start-up committed to stimulating dialogue and raising awareness on education and the socio-economic, environmental and political factors that influence education in South Africa and the African Continent.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.