CHOMBA MUSIKA, Lusaka
â€œTEACHERS are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth,â€ Australian author Helen Caldicott wrote.
In line with Dr Caldicottâ€™s sentiments, teachers in Zambia have continued to occupy a special place of great respect because of the influence they have on learners and society at large.
Teachers are associated with virtues such as knowledge, integrity, leadership, moral uprightness and selfless service, especially those working in remote parts of the country.
They have been known to play a crucial role in spearheading the socio-economic development of their communities and that of the nation as a whole.
But some sections of society have been questioning whether or not teachers still deserve the honour that has been historically accorded to them considering the increase in reported cases of their involvement in unprofessional behaviour.
Some teachers have in the recent past made newspaper headlines for wrong reasons, such as for being involved in examination malpractices, poor work culture and having sexual relations with pupils.
This could partly be attributed to the absence of a teachersâ€™ regulatory body and a code of ethics.
In light of this, government enacted the Teaching Professionals Act No. 5 of 2013, which led to the establishment of the Teaching Council of Zambia (TCZ) in 2014.
The mandate of the TCZ, whose motto is â€˜Quality Education Our Priorityâ€™, is threefold; to register teachers so that their professional conduct is regulated, accreditation of colleges of education and to approve training programmes for teachers.
TCZ registrar Ebby Mubanga has explained how the council will execute its mandate aimed at improving the quality of education in the country.
â€œWe are coming from a background where teaching was never regulated in this country and people were proving they could do education in their own way. But with the coming of the Teaching Council of Zambia, the provision of education will be regulated. This implies that teachers who are working at private and public institutions will be registered with us,â€ Dr Mubanga says.
Without practising certificates, no teacher will be allowed to teach anywhere in the country.
Practising and student teachers, including lecturers at colleges of education, will now have to be registered, once in a professional lifetime, with the council at a fee ranging from K100 to K450. This is in accordance with the Teaching Professionals Act No. 5 of 2013.
Teachers will be required to pay registration fees according to their class. This has been categorised as early childhood education, primary, secondary, special education, guidance, college lecturer, as well as administrator and student registration.
Apart from being registered, teachers will have to acquire a practising certificate, renewable after three years, at costs ranging from K300 to K600.
Accreditation of colleges of education is pegged at K22,000.
â€œThe quality of education provided to our learners cannot be detached from the quality of teachers we have. That is why we want to ensure that teachers are well prepared, well trained, well behaved so that we are sure they can deliver quality education,â€ Dr Mubanga says.
According to Dr Mubanga, the introduction of registration of teachers, which begins next month, is timely because investigations indicate that some private schools engage unqualified members of staff.
â€œFor a teacher to register, we need to find out whether they are qualified, if they have a diploma, degree or certificate. We shall ask another question, from which institution and whether it [training institution] is credible [or not],â€ Dr Mubanga says.
With media reports of some people forging Grade 12 results, the teacher registration exercise is envisaged to curb the vice in the education sector.
And teachers have welcomed the establishment of the TCZ but with mixed feelings.
â€œIt is a good idea because there will be strict scrutiny of the people who are joining the teaching fraternity. But I have a problem with the registration of student teachers, who will only be in college for a short period of time,â€ says Royd Chobe, a secondary school teacher at Dora Tamane School in Lusaka.
Mr Chobe also says the charges for registration and certification of teachers are exorbitant, especially for student teachers.
â€œI feel the Teaching Council of Zambia will help improve the performance and poor work culture, which are common among teachers in government schools. Teachers will fear that their practising certificates will be revoked if they are involved in misconduct,â€ adds Mapalo Mulenza, another secondary school teacher at the same school.
Dora Tamane School head teacher Barbara Moonga is of the view that the establishment of the council will help restore the lost integrity of teachers.
â€œIssues of teachers involved in defilement cases, drunkenness will now come to an end because there will be strict monitoring by the Teaching Council of Zambia,â€ Ms Moonga observes.
Michael Khan, a teacher at Nalituwe Basic School in Livingstone, hopes that the TCZ will not end up duplicating the roles or mandate of the Teaching Service Commission.
â€œBut the establishment of the Teaching Council of Zambia is a good move as it will now make teaching a profession since it will be affiliated to a body unlike in the past when it was viewed as a mere career,â€ Mr Khan points out.
Prior to the establishment of the council, the Zambia National Union of Teachers (ZNUT) said the planned introduction of practising licences for teachers was a well-intended move as it would bring sanity to the profession.
â€œThis law will make the teaching profession clean. It will separate the wolves, pretenders and hypocrites from trained teachers,â€ Joe Kasaka, the ZNUT director for international and public relations, said.
The council has already started executing its mandate and in the last 12 months, going by Dr Mubanga, it has inspected 83 colleges of education out of which 45 were given full accreditation while 12 were rejected after failing to meet the required minimum qualifications.
CHOMBA MUSIKA, Lusaka