Columnists Features

Invest in the future, the teachers

Some of the teachers who attended the World Teachers Day celebrations in Lusaka last year. Picture: COLLINS PHIRI.

CHATTING EDUCATION with KENNETH CHIMESE
“INVEST in the future; invest in teachers” was the theme for this year’s World Teachers’ Day, which is commemorated on October 5 every year.
In celebrating the 2014 World Teachers’ Day, United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) director general Irina Bokova summed up her address to the world in the words: “An education system is only as good as its teachers.”
This means that the good results which society expects from an education system is only possible with well supported teachers.
This is because teachers are cardinal to the successes of any education system the world over.
Teachers who are well trained, sufficiently resourced and motivated can most likely demonstrate commitment to their work and produce good results in their pupils.
In her address, Ms Bokova reiterated the position that “teachers are an investment for the future of countries.
What today’s children will face in adult life cannot be predicted, and so the teachers of today and tomorrow need the skills, knowledge and support that will enable them to meet the diverse learning needs of every girl and boy”.
The kind of skills and attitudes which pupils leave an education system with today has a bearing on how well the future adults will tackle problems later in their lives.
Teachers need to be available to every child for good results to be attained. Investment in teachers should take the form of sufficient training to enable them to handle and meet the needs of different children in today’s changing world.
According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 1.4 million teachers are missing in classrooms globally, yet they are needed to achieve the Universal Primary Education by 2015.
“In many countries, the quality of education is undermined by a deficit of teachers,” UNESCO states.
In our country today, as can be seen from the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education statistics, the teacher-pupil ratio in some cases can be as high as one to 70. This stretches the teacher and denies children an opportunity to receive adequate and meaningful attention from their teacher.
Across the country, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that we have hundreds of thousands of learners (over 600,000 children) who are attending open community schools.
In such schools, most of the teachers are volunteers with no formal training. Children who graduate from such schools are ill-taught and lack the necessary literacy and life skills. UNESCO’s other worry is “Added to the
challenge of numbers is quality. Teachers often work without resources or proper training. The stakes are high because today we face a global learning crisis, with 250 million children not acquiring basic skills of reading and writing.”
The book-pupil ratio in most public and community schools is as bad as one to 10, yet books are a traditional learning resource.
Information and Communication Technology still does not have a place in the resource base of a good number of schools in the country.
Pupils still rely on the teacher as the only resource. Such children cannot develop research skills, critical thinking and face limitations in broadening their scope of knowledge. Investment in this area, therefore, becomes critical.
The Global Thematic Consultation on Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda spells out some of the essentials for supporting teachers’ effectiveness. Teachers need to be effective for them to have a positive impact on learners. Therefore, investment efforts need to be directed towards such fundamentals.
One essential thing in supporting teachers is to make them enjoy good conditions of service, including appropriate contracts and salaries, as well as prospects for career progression and promotion.
What is sad is that in Zambia, even private schools are notorious for awarding teachers insecure and unattractive employment contracts.
A good work environment for teachers is also key. This calls for sufficient working space and resource rooms with modern technology.
The third fundamental is ensuring that there is quality pre and in-service training for teachers. All teachers today need to be equipped well enough for them to handle even children with special learning needs.
In-house professional development has to be part of any school’s programme, and investment in such must be ongoing.
The other necessity is effective management, including teacher recruitment and deployment.
Good to note that Government has exhibited commitment towards deployment of teachers.
School management styles need to ensure that teachers are given adequate teaching loads and checked on to see if they fulfil their obligations.
So in investing in the future, school managers and policy makers need to take a holistic approach and ensure that conditions
of service and work environments for teachers are improved continuously. That is a sure way of investing in the future of Zambia.
Comments to: kennethchimese@hotmail.co.uk, 0966 902506, 0974 469073

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