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03.06.2005 Feature Article

Letter From The President: Take care of the teachers

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Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents,

I have had my own problems over the past couple of weeks. This hotel saga is a major headache for me. But Omarfo-Sarfo and the guys at the Sikaman Education Service are worsening my headache with their failure to convince striking graduate teachers to return to the classrooms. It's very annoying when I have my own issues to resolve and the people I have appointed to do certain jobs are messing up.

When the graduate teachers started their strike, I called Omarfo-Sarfo and told him to make sure that the issue is resolved as soon as possible. This is not the first strike by the graduate teachers since I assumed office and I was therefore surprised that the same issues have pushed them to go on strike again. Omarfo-Sarfo nodded his head like a delirious agama lizard and told me that “everything is under control”. He gave me the impression that he would get the teachers back in the classroom within a few days. Almost a month later, the teachers are still on strike and the future leaders of Sikaman are suffering – uncertain about whether they will be adequately prepared for their impending examinations.

Perhaps, Omarfo-Sarfo and his underlings at the Education Service do not realise that the futures of thousands of Sikaman youth are at stake now. These are the SSS students who are preparing for examinations this month. Just imagine what they've lost by way of essential instruction as a result of the strike action by the teachers. In a country where seeking 'apor' has been elevated to a glamorous treasure hunt, just guess what might be running through the minds of these students. Even when they've been prepared for the exams, they go to every length to get 'apor'. What will happen when they've had very little preparation?

To make matters worse, the Education Ministry and the Education Service have taken what I consider to be an unnecessarily antagonistic stance, which will not serve anybody's interest except massage the big men's egos. Omarfo-Sarfo has issued a threat ordering the teachers to return to work or forfeit their salaries. I think the teachers can make do without their salaries anyway. After all, some of them even consider their current salaries as very “insulting”. So what do they lose if they do not take any “insulting” salaries for a month or two? I think this whole saga has been handled very incompetently and the earlier Omarfo-Sarfo wises up, the better. I have therefore decided to take my mind off my own hotel problems to think about this NAGRAT issue and give him some tips.

First, the Education Ministry should realise that we need these graduate teachers. The teachers should therefore NOT be antagonised or made to feel unwanted. Perhaps, Omarfo-Sarfo does not know that these teachers can easily join the masses of Sikaman citizens seeking greener pastures abroad. I know for sure that countries like South Africa, Nigeria and Botswana have been 'poaching' our teachers with mouth-watering offers. Some have taken these offers and left the country. Others have not. And we should encourage those who remain to stay. We don't have to call their bluff anytime they decide to go on strike. Otherwise, teachers will start leaving this country in alarming droves. Let's not wait for the situation to get worse and start screaming “brain drain, brain drain”.

Those who say that we can do without these graduate teachers are either too naïve or selfish or foolish. I suspect that most of them are just selfish. They are the rich “big men” who can afford to educate their children abroad. They do not care whether the teachers in Sikaman are on strike or not because, well, their children will receive the best education elsewhere. From where I stand, we are at the mercy of these striking teachers. The Education Minister should sit down and negotiate sensibly with them. The Minister should attend to their grievances with the same seriousness as his counterpart at the health ministry would if doctors at Korle Bu decided to go on strike. I shudder to see our doctors leaving the country and I will even be more worried if our teachers decide to leave too. If the teachers leave, we might not even have any doctors at all. Someone should please tell Omarfo-Sarfo that his decision to recruit reverend ministers and retired teachers to go and teach is one of the most nonsensical suggestions I've heard in my life. A reverend minister whose only textbook for the past five or so years has been the Bible cannot teach Maths or Science. I don't know but Omarfo-Sarfo, might have a minister who preaches biology and chemistry in church.

I think that Omarfo-Sarfo's problem (and the difficulty for the men and women at the GES) is that they lack the essential negotiation skills. They are just hiding behind the threats to conceal their negotiation impotence. They should simply make their shortcomings clear and I will endeavour to get brilliant negotiators to convince the teachers to go back to the classrooms.

If push comes to shove, I think it wouldn't hurt anyone if we give the teachers a fifty percent salary increase, just to entice them back to the classroom. Such an increase might also bolster my popularity. Anyone who tells you that it is not within our means to increase the teachers' salaries will be telling you a grievous lie. If we slashed the salaries of all ministers and their special assistants by just one percent, we can use the proceeds to pay near-realistic salaries to the teachers.

Having said all that, I think the striking teachers also need to “come down small”. All the wise men in the world agree that to get something, one needs to give something. I think the striking teachers will win a lot more public sympathy for their cause if they decided to 'suspend' their strike and go back to the classroom, just to take our children and young brothers and sisters through the forthcoming exams. They will just be doing it for the kids. Their 'tough' stance is making it difficult for the public to sympathise with them and thus pile the needed pressure on the Education Ministry and the Education Service to do the right things.

Excellently yours,

J. A. Fukuor Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

J. A. Fukuor
J. A. Fukuor, © 2005

The author has 204 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: JAFukuor

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