The slowly darkening skies over teachers in Ghana; The inside Story – Kwami Alorvi writes

Kwami Alorvi
Kwami Alorvi

INTRODUCTION

When I started public service as a young teacher, the vibrancy of the only Teacher Union then in Ghana was something I admired. The name T. A. Bediako, General Secretary of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), was a household word among teachers. Somehow, the embers began to dim for T. A. Bediako’s GNAT.

Then came agitations among University graduates within the teaching fraternity, about neglect and lack of recognition by their mother union. The result was the severance of the umbilical cord of that category of teachers from their mother, GNAT, and emergence of a new union under the name National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT).

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The vibrancy of teachers was rekindled under the new union led by Lucas Kwadzoga Alagbo. That didn’t end the agitations and breakaways. Two other groups, Coalition of Concerned Teachers (CCT), and Innovative Teachers (IT), also later emerged out of the mother union to become autonomous groups. It must be noted that GNAT itself was originally part of the Teachers and Educational Workers Union (TEWU) before breaking away as autonomous union.

These breakaways shook the foundations of teachers unionism and ushered the unions into a new era of competition, compelling all these groups to reorganize their activities in ways that would make them remain relevant. The suspicion and acrimony that characterized the secession periods gave way to mutual trust and cooperation among the various unions.

DARK CLOUDS BEGAN TO GATHER

Fast forward however, dark cumulonimbus clouds began to gather over the skies of these unions and their members. Whether grouped in associations such as the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT); or in concerned coalitions as the Coalition of Concerned Teachers (CCT); or in innovative worlds as the Innovative Teachers (IT); the activism and vibrancy of these teacher unions have begun plummeting.

Teachers in other groupings have not been spared these menacing dark clouds either. Thus, those congregating in conferences such as the Conference of Heads of Basic Schools (COHBS), Conference of Directors of Education (CODE), Conference of Managers of Educational Units (COMEU), and Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS), are also seeing the clouds darkening their skies.

THE POISONOUS SEED

The teachers tragedy began when they and their unions allowed the poisonous seed of self destruction called Partisan Politics, to be sowed among them. After allowing this poisonous seed to germinate, teachers have nurtured, watered and fertilized it with mistrust, apathy, selfishness and ethnicity, to grow into a gigantic tree with protuding roots, breaking apart the protecting soils over them.

In recent times, politicians have made the Ghanaian teacher to believe that, what is, and should be, of interest to him is no more his welfare, conditions of service and secured retirement, but rather the retention in power of the political party he belongs to. It is thus now not uncommon to see time tested procedures in the Ghana Education Service (GES) being set aside for political expediency and for the benefit of a few teachers, with the large majority of them remaining aloof or helpless.

Teachers have been appointed to positions of Headmaster and Assistant Headmaster by the GES without going through interview as the rule stipulates, even when they are not qualified by rank to head schools. The unions are helpless to stop this, or have turned a blind eye to it. The partisan politics has been allowed to override procedure. Our team discovered six (6) of such undeserved Headship appointments in Central Region and over a dozen of such in Ashanti and Eastern regions.

Some teachers who are successful in interviews for appointment as Heads of School, District and Regional Directors are kept in suspense on a waiting list for months, while political actors such as ruling party officials, MPs and MMDCEs, present lists of party members to the GES who are then selected from the lot and issued with appointment letters.

In a particular instance, our Research Team shepherded some successful candidates for the positions of Heads and Assistant Heads of School to seek for the intervention of very influential politicians in two separate regions. The successful candidates awaiting posting presented themselves as members of the ruling party and wanted to be assisted to secure their appointment letters.

Less than a week after those political interventions, all the teachers secured their appointment letters. Some other teachers have been appointed out of turn over their seniors to the position of Regional Directors with little experience to handle their new responsibilities and duties.
Such “political appointees” do everything to suppress genuine calls for change from those working with them. Some of those Directors appointed through their political connections go on compulsory retirement but are still kept in their positions by the GES for long periods while non affiliated ones are sent packing soon as their retirements are due.

Teachers and their unions are helpless in stopping these. In some instances, appointment letters given to successful candidates as District Directors of Education have been withdrawn by the GES within days after issue, and the positions offered to other people recommended by their political godfathers. Such Directors whose appointment letters have been withdrawn without any explanation are not reposted to any other station. They also remain on their previous grades and salaries.

In terms of postings, the good schools, endowed districts and regions, have been reserved for those politically connected, while the non affiliated are assigned to the deprived schools and districts. The poisonous seed of partisan politics has corrupted the system resulting in manipulation of the procedures in favour of party affiliation. Feeling helpless, teachers are beginning to accept these manipulations as the new normal. Loyalty to the collective cause being championed by their unions, are jettisoned.

THE POISONED SYSTEM

Corrupted by these undeserved appointments, these “politically favoured teachers,” whose bread have been buttered by these “malevolent benefactors”, have constituted themselves into hounds that bark and snarl at the heels of their colleagues who try to speak about challenges in the system. They have become the “political eyes and ears” of the GES and government (like the Agbadzigbetos of the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey), spying and reporting on their own colleagues.

It is common to see a Head of School remove teachers from responsibility positions such as house masters, senior house masters and Heads of Department, for no apparent reason other than the fact that such teachers do not belong to their political party. They are replaced  with political favourites by the Heads.

It is also common to see such politically favoured staff secretly putting their political godfathers on phone calls to listen in to ongoing  discussions during staff meetings, or recording their Heads at such meetings.

At the union level, politicians have succeeded in demonizing the leadership to the politically aligned teachers by accusing them of working for opposition parties to bring down their government. Genuine expressions by union leaders about challenges of the education system is thus viewed with suspicion by their own colleagues.

It has even been confirmed that decisions taken at Executive meetings of some of these unions are quickly leaked to government and political figures before such decisions trickle down to members. Party moles planted within leadership of Labour boldly undermine their collective decisions. The politically aligned members among leadership argue vehemently for “restraint,” and in some cases, accuse their own  colleagues of “sabotaging” government any time a union decides on an industrial action.

Union Leaders are in constant doubt and have to look over their shoulders when discussing issues of concern. They are not sure who among their own Executive Committee members are genuine supporters of the collective cause.

TEACHERS WELFARE NEGLECTED

With these internal suspicions, the core business of the unions – working for improvement at the workplace and in the conditions of service – is left on the back burner. COHBS, COMEU, CODE, CHASS, GNAT, NAGRAT, CCT, do not push for furniture for schools, conducive classrooms, and timely release of capitation grants. I met a Headteacher who lamented that for two years, he received only Gh¢350 as capitation grant for all his administrative work; an amount that was not even sufficient for transporting Personal Protecting Equipment (PPE) from the District Education Office to his school to protect his pupils against COVID-19.

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Lack of textbooks in basic schools two clear years after the introduction of a new curriculum, and no money to print examination questions for pupils don’t deserve the attention of teachers and their unions.

Head teachers are being forced to sign performance contracts without any commitment from the GES, which is the employer, to provide them with the inputs and funding necessary for achieving results. Such Head teachers have nobody to speak for them.

At the SHS level, situations continue to deteriorate. Erratic academic calendar; overcrowding in dormitories and classrooms; removal of responsibility allowances after teachers have been promoted and upgraded; no holidays for some teachers who hold responsibilities as House masters, Senior House masters and Guidance and Counseling Coordinators, no more appear to engage the attention of teachers.

Academic intervention fees have been paid for only two out of eight terms so far (one term each in 2018 and 2020) and teachers don’t complain. Government has no money to pay for responsibility allowances, transfer grants and salary arrears of teachers, yet it has over Gh¢34.8 million to waste on past examination questions, not withstanding the fact that, the questions supplied last year are still in the schools.

The 2021 WASSCE has started, but the past questions have not been delivered to some schools. What then is the reason for spending that much to purchase the questions?

CHASS cannot complain about shortage of food to feed students but has to resort to barter trade among themselves, or delays in release of money for administering the schools because they might not get support from their fellow executives, let alone the other members. Fear has drowned their voices, and protection of their jobs and daily bread has become their topmost priority. After all, if you talk and get sacked, no one will fight for you.

ANNIHILATION BECKONS

While the generality of members of these teacher unions are quick to accuse their leadership of not fighting for them, leadership on the other hand does not trust their members to stay with them in the trenches should they proceed to the battlefield. The fundamental problem is division along political lines among leaders, and between leaders and the led, due to the poisonous seed of self destruction they have helped to nurture, water and fertilize. Thus, while members demand action from their leaders, leadership on the other hand is left with no root to reinforce such actions. Partisan politics has destroyed the support base and solidarity needed to exact from the education authorities the needed conducive environment for quality teaching and learning. The ominous shadow of annihilation lurks around and should leadership fail to act in time, they and the teachers they lead will soon see the dark clouds spread over their skies.

As the gap between leadership and membership widens, teachers and their unions will soon reach the nightmarish era described by William Butler Yeats in his poem, “The Second Coming,” which is a stage of chaos and instability.

At that point, union leaders and their teachers will be turning and turning in the widening gyre in a cyclical downward spiral; the falcon cannot hear the falconer; things will disintegrate and fall apart and the center can no more hold. And when the cumulonimbus clouds cover the entire sky of teachers, the connections between them and their leaderships will be permanently broken. The disintegration will be catastrophic.

THE POISONED CHALICE AWAITS THE POLITICIANS

It might be apt at this juncture to send a word of caution to the politicians who are relentlessly and recklessly sowing the poisonous seed of divisiveness and destruction among teachers, and holding them in contempt. No condition is permanent.

One day, God willing, and He is, the table will turn and the politician in power today will become a politician in opposition. On that day, such destructive politicians will need vibrant non partisan teacher unions to speak for their constituents and family members who are teachers, but there will be none; they all will have been dead and gone.

Do the past Ministers of Kufour’s regime remember how they invaded a Labour Union meeting in Koforidua when the inevitable change of government came in 2009? Do they remember pushing Union leaders to compel late President John Evans Atta Mills to implement the over 30% salary increase under the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS) which President Kufour announced through a press release to media houses at 9.36pm on Tuesday 6th January 2009, less than three hours to the end of his administration? This push no doubt, was meant to destabilize the new government of John Evans Atta Mills. Indeed, it took the good judgement of our level – headed leader, Comrade Kofi Asamoah, then TUC Secretary General, supported by the other Union leaders, to ward off that mischief.

In the end, President Mills negotiated with Organised Labour to shift the implementation date of the SSSS from 2009 to 2010, to offer his new government time to settle for its implementation.
It will thus be in the interest of these marauding politicians to take their hands off the teacher unions and allow them to operate freely without the poisonous seed of partisanship they are breeding within.

Political parties in opposition are watching with keen interest, the deliberate emasculation of the labour unions. One day, when the tables turn, union leaders and their aggrieved teachers will force these politicians to guzzle from the chalice they have helped poisoned in their inordinate adventure to divide the front of teachers on partisan lines.

When that time comes, the current opposition politician, who becomes the ruling politician, will harvest the poisoned fruits and serve their opponents with a good cocktail. Union Leaders and teachers, who today are at the receiving end of the intimidation and unfair treatment, will recall their ordeals.

They will also spread and deepen the division, and render the new leaders of the unions ineffective by pushing the political agenda rather than the collective interest of workers. That day, there will be wailing, finger biting and gnashing of teeth. By this time, the slowly darkening clouds will have completely spread over teachers in Ghana and the destruction will be catastrophic.

To the politicians pulling the strings, I leave you with what Lawyer Tsatsu Tsikata told the Justices of the Supreme Court in Hosea 8:7. “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The proverbial cane that was used to whip Takyi, is resting against the wall, anxiously waiting for Baah.

ADVICE TO COLLEAGUE LEADERS

Your main problem is information gap between you and your members at the grassroots. Teachers don’t see you around or hear from you. National Officers should not leave interactions with grassroots to the Regions, nor the Regions to the Zonal/District officers. They are not performing that task diligently. You should not interact with your members only at your biennial conferences. As you remain at your National, Regional and Zonal/District Secretariats, your members in the schools, offices and villages are  being polluted by political party communicators on daily basis, and are gradually getting disconnected from you. Come down to engage your grassroots at their local levels.

As you disconnect with your grassroots, the GES has surreptitiously started deducting the GES-SIC Insurance levies you fought against and stopped, with no refund  made to many teachers. Teachers recruited into the GES from January to March 2021 have been illegally deducted the GES-SIC GH¢10.00 each month from May to July 2021 at your blind side.

These deductions will continue beyond August. The teachers don’t know what the illegal deductions are for, or who to complain to for redress. Please get down to your grassroots for, there lies your support and strength. If you fail, the teachers front cannot win back its soul from political infestation. You and your teachers will soon be bruised beyond recognition and the reverberation will persist beyond your generation.

SOURCE: Coverghana.com.gh

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