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05.10.2006 Education

Teachers draw sword as Ghana marks ‘‘World Teachers’ Day’’

By MJOL
Teachers draw sword as Ghana marks ‘‘World Teachers’ Day’’
LISTEN OCT 5, 2006

It is a special day for teachers today. All around the globe, countries are celebrating ''World Teachers Day,'' a day set aside to recognize the contributions of teachers to the development of society.

A ceremony to honour the teachers in the country is underway in the Upper East regional capital of Bolgatanga. But this year's ceremony comes in the wake of unrests in the education sector with teachers haggling over pay and conditions of service with the Educational Authorities.

Graduate teachers under the umbrella organization, the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), have been on strike for almost a month to demand better pay and other benefits.

Although the leadership of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) has not sanctioned a strike, members in the Upper East, Upper West, parts of the Volta and Eastern regions have abandoned their classrooms.

The first indications of a likely strike came after NAGRAT held its annual executive meeting in August at which it issued an ultimatum to government for better service conditions.

Following government's inability to meet the deadline, NAGRAT withdrew its services on September 4. It has been a month and relentless appeals by government, non-governmental organizations including ActionAid and parents for the teachers to call off the action and return to the classroom have failed.

NAGRAT has also been criticized by some maintain that the teachers' action contravenes the labour laws. But the association insists members will not return to the classrooms unless government reviews their salaries.
NAGRAT President, Kwame Alorvi has said government must stop treating teachers ''unfairly'' and grant them better living wages as was recently done for health workers.

The last time NAGRAT embarked on such an action, it took the intervention of the Parliamentary Select-Committee on Education to get the teachers back to work.

But the chairman of the Committee, Stephen Balado-Manu, has said NAGRAT's current demands are way beyond the Committee's purview and therefore cannot intervene in the impasse.

Aside salaries, graduate teachers are asking for the head of the Ghana Education Service's (GES) Director-General, Michael Nsowah and two children of each teacher to be sponsored to the university level.

These demands, the MP for Ahafo Ano South explained, were ''purely executive decisions'' and therefore out of the remit of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education.

The strike has crippled academic work in most secondary school. Some students have since returned home.

In an effort to salvage the situation, the GES directed all heads of secondary schools to explore alternative tuition avenues, whilst negotiations continue to get the teachers back to the classrooms.

But things took a turn for the worse as some members of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) also unilaterally decide to lay down their tools to back demands for better salaries. GNAT members generally teach at the basic level.

GNAT members in the Upper East region, the Volta regional capital of Ho and some parts of the Eastern Region accuse their leaders of insensitivity to their plight. Despite these complaints, the national executives of GNAT continue to play down reports of the strike. There are suggestions that the rebellion by some members indicates a loss of confidence in the national executive.

But GNAT President, Joseph Adjei, disagrees. Speaking to JOY NEWS, Adjei dismissed the rebellion as the work of a few disgruntled members.

It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that the striking teachers will not give up their fight until their demands are met. But the situation raises many questions. As the world celebrates teachers' day, it is only worth asking these questions: Are teachers being treated fairly? Are their contributions to society being overlooked? Or are they just blowing hot air and derailing national development in the process?

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