Declining academic performance in basic education caused by lack of educational standards for entry and acceptable standard of professional competence and lack of a Code of Conduct for teachers could become history with the introduction of the proposed Botswana Teaching Professionals' Council (BTPC). The Ministry of Basic Education will present a Bill to the July session of Parliament that will pave the way for the establishment of BTPC, a professional regulatory body that monitors the teaching profession. The council will operate in a similar manner as the Law Society of Botswana and the Botswana Health Professionals Council. Its main functions will be to regulate the teaching profession, maintain professional and ethical standards including teaching knowledge, skills and competence, license teachers, establish, publish, review and maintain a code of ethics for teachers, and review as well as advise on professional standards for teachers. Although the ministry says it has conducted extensive consultations, teacher trade unions complain that their submissions and contribution to the proposal have been ignored all together. Long before it comes to fruition the proposal for a Teaching Professionals' Council has been heavily criticised by teacher trade unions, citing serious lapses and omissions in the proposal.
In a response to a call for submissions by Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education (MoE) Labane Mokgosi, the teacher trade unions -Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) and Botswana Sectors of Educators Union (BOSETU) -representing over 25 000 teachers, have punched holes in Bill of 2016. Even as they welcome the decision to establish a BTPC, teacher trade unions argue that the problems besieging the education sector need a holistic approach, rather than a piece meal approach that seems to target teachers. Some of the issues raised include: The Bill must be clear that Regulation is targeted at all teachers including those in the private secto; Too many Ministerial appointments to the Council will compromise the board, independence of the board should be protected as with other regulatory bodies; The involvement of a minister in the committee (appointing the Chairman and vice chairman) defeats the whole purpose of corporate governance and exposes the council to political manipulation. This the same trend with other regulatory bodies for nurses and lawyers, for example. This is done to protect impartiality and independence of the board; Scope of the board should be broadened to include Brigades, Colleges of Education, institutions of further training, and or adult learning centres; Representation of the board should be broadened to include representatives from private primary and secondary schools association, and private tertiary educators who are stakeholders in the education system .In the last five years, the MoE has been experiencing a continuous decline in results at all levels from Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), Junior Certificate (JC) and the BGCSE. This has been attributed to a number of factors including deplorable conditions under which teachers operate and policy issues.
The holistic approach suggested includes resolving outstanding issues among them conditions of service for teachers, overtime allowances, shortage of accommodation, ballooning class sizes, shortage of and dilapidated classrooms and delinquency.
• Hours of work and Overtime in the teaching profession
BOSETU is of the view that government is all out to exploit teachers by making them to work extremely long hours and not compensate them as evidenced by a high number of teachers who have worked both after hours and during the rest days and have not been compensated. In our view such exploitation and disregard of the statutes can no longer be tolerated. As the year 2015 commences, nation - wide consultations will conducted to determine the way forward on this long outstanding. In these consultations, the general membership’s views will be solicited on whether it is still worthwhile to continue scarifying by carrying activities such as remedial lessons, enrichment activities, supervision of coursework after hours and sporting activities on rest days.
• The State of Sectoral Bargaining in the Education Sector
It is paramount to state here that this aspect is the core reason for the existence of any trade union and as such we have ascribed a lot of attention to it. Within government circles, it is only at the Ministry of Education where there is some form of sectoral bargaining and negotiations while other ministries are still waiting for the National Bargaining Council to demarcate sectoral chambers. This positive development can be attributed to the robustness that BOSETU and other unions within the education sector have been unapologetic in demanding its right to bargain, and have brought into focus teacher welfare issues.
• Levels of Operation
This year 2014 experienced stagnancy in the resolution of concomitant issues related to Levels of Operation. Though we have experienced positive development in this regard in 2012/13, in that the flow of progression for most teachers has been opened up, we are aware however that government seem to be reneging on the agreement that Primary School teachers should move up to C1. This is an issue that we are monitoring closely. Still with respect to Primary Schools, there is still an issue of the position of Senior Grade 1 being pitched below other senior teachers who operates at other levels. The issue of the Senior Secondary School teachers who have benefited from the levels of operation dispensation and were later reversed to the previous scale is a worrying phenomenon. This is one issue which will be dealt with through litigations. The employer has once again done badly very badly in this regard.
• Simmering Class sizes
Another lacklustre and a seemingly reluctant attitude in dealing with the obviously simmering class sizes. It is evident that one factors resulting in dwindling final examination grades across all streams is the high student – teacher ratio. Research has shown that the more students are in a class, the less the attention that a teacher gives to individual students in a class. High class sizes force teachers to use the ineffective transition method. Our definition of the student – teacher ratio is simply the number of students in a class that a teacher is to attend to in a lesson. We hold a view that it is not only inaccurate, but it is also misleading to explain student – teacher ratio as the total number of teachers compared in the country compared to population of students as this will not really indicate the number of students in a classroom. It is common knowledge that they are classes especially the optional subjects that have few students while classes for the core subjects are busting at their seams. The international trend is that the student – teacher ratio is now 1:25 while in our case it remains at 1:45. This is an issue that government seems not to be taking seriously. They are many qualified graduate teachers who are unemployed who could be employed to remedy this problem.
• Short Term Contract/Replacement teachers
The issue of teachers on contract has been topical for many years and it has remained unresolved. These are teachers who were hired on short term contracts, in most cases replacing those going on study leave. Issues that we have grappled with are that when their contracts come to an end, the employer becomes reluctant to pay them their terminal benefits in the form severance benefits and leave days. The appointment to permanent and pensionable terms from a pool of these contract teachers remain uncoordinated and erratic to an extent that fresh teachers from tertiary institutions can by – pass those who have been on temporary employment for some time.
• Schools of excellence & Music teachers
This year saw yet another deepening confusion with respect to the Ministry of Education policy on schools of excellence. Sometimes in 2011, the Ministry decided that the subjects of Music, PE & D&T will only be taught in what they referred to as schools of excellence. The implication of the decision was that the teaching of the three (3) subjects will be reduced, to take place in only 5 schools each, across the country. The decision was taken without due consultation especially with the unions as custodians of teacher welfare. Consideration was not given to what would happen to teachers offering those subjects when the number of schools offering them was being shrunk to only five. The consequence of this not so well unthought-of decision has now come to haunt not only the Ministry of Education, but also the teachers. Beginning this year, the Ministry decided to pilot the schools of excellence policy on Music subject at senior schools. As a consequence of not consulting, some of the teachers spent the whole year without teaching owing to the fact that the schools have been reduced hence reducing the vacancies within the subject. These subjects have been operating on pilot for the past 12 years without any paths of progression and our view is that these teachers have been subjected to very unfair and discriminatory labour practice. They have further been subjected to unfair treatment by spending the whole year without schools.
• Brigades & Technical Colleges
This year has seen indecisiveness on the art of the Ministry of Education to resolve the issue of a glaring structural gap at Brigades and Technical Colleges. We know that since the take – over of the brigades and the assimilation of the Technical Colleges, there has been challenges of the structures of these institutions. In brigades for instance, there are employees who at salary scale C3 & thereafter the next post is that of the Deputy Principal at D3. We are also alive to the issues of care taker instructors and the temporary full time instructors.
• Teachers Accommodation
This issue remains daunting. While we had expected that the initiative to encourage teachers to look for accommodation on private residential houses and then be subsidized would alleviate the crisis, it never saw the light of the day. This is an issue that the leadership of the ministry needs to address forthwith.