In April 2006 Adrian Verspoor, a World Bank education stalwart, presented two pieces of supposed “scientific researches” to a major international conference in Africa convened by ADEA. One argued that there was no link between teacher training and learning outcomes. The other argued that there was no difference in learning outcomes when children were in classes of up to 60. The policy message was clear: close down teacher training colleges, employ non professional teachers and cram more children into classrooms.
This is an irresponsible recipe for disaster on the part of the World Bank. Is it true that African learners do not need trained teachers? Should the learners be taught in congested classrooms? Such concerns prompted actors concerned with Africa’s development to conduct international dialogue on such policies towards Africa. Educational International in collaboration with Action Aid International held a big conference in Johannesburg South Africa in April 2006 to discuss challenges facing education; enhance cooperation from education stakeholders and rethink the World Bank’s destructive policies. The conference discussed non- professional teachers and the quality of education; macro –economics and education; gender and education, violence against girls and strategies to enhance NGO-Teacher Union cooperation with a view of addressing challenges facing education, researching and blowing the whistle against destructive educational policies.
In a recent international conference at Silver Springs Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya organized by Action Aid International, participants who were drawn from Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa and Mozambique (among others) discussed the education progress in their countries since the deliberations in South Africa and how their countries are handling the problem of untrained teachers. They laid new strategies to build strategic partnership between education stakeholders.
Why is Africa being forced to make use of untrained teachers? Why is it compelled to fill classrooms to the brim? Isn’t this compromising the quality of education? Why are our leaders gullible to such policies? The IMF argues that channeling a lot of money in the education sector is not prudent as education is not an investment. As a result, African countries are cutting down on their education budget allocation despite the surge in enrolment under the education for all program. Without giving it a thought or for fear of donors, they are embracing these dictates bent on destroying academic performance in Africa.
Many African countries have further reduced their teacher enrollment. In Kenya, for example, the education sector has a shortfall of over 60 000 teachers to match the rising student enrollment. Uganda requires 50 000 while Tanzania is in need of 40 000. Malawi and Mozambique are all in need of more teachers.
To alleviate this, the IMF is contradicting its earlier stand by proposing that untrained teachers be employed to fill the gap. Although this decision augurs well with most African leaders, they never take their children to schools with inexperienced teachers. Their children either study overseas or go to local schools that have qualified personnel. When they graduate from these schools, they become leaders and wealthy people in the community. Their poor counterparts go back to their homes to further propagate the cycle of poverty. Till when shall this be tolerated?
The IMF also advices that teacher salaries be cut to avoid inflation. Demotivated teachers will never dwell in their station for long. They will exit and look for greener pastures in such countries as Ghana, Ethiopia, South Africa and London, or quit teaching and engage in other fields. Frustrating qualified teachers while at the same time employing untrained ones is like filling water in a leaking pail. This approach to education has made it lose its seriousness. It has bred the culture of looking at education in terms of acquiring a certificate and speaking a foreign language. It is a quantitative approach as opposed to a qualitative one. No wonder, many work places are filled with workers who can’t perform- graduates who can’t solve a simple problem in their environment. Many schools are releasing graduates who can’t read or write. There is great dearth of thinking people.
It is time that Africa embraced standards and stopped gambling with young minds by allowing external meddling and contradictions in the education sector. There is need for proper standards to be set and met. This will guard against policies and groups that undermine the quality of education. Donors should not be allowed to meddle into every aspect of the functioning of a country.
There is need to expose pupils to qualified personnel. The teaching fraternity ought to be given a conducive environment to discharge their duties. There should be access to quality distance courses, backed up with face to face formal courses, mentoring and support leading to public examinations. Where are we positioning Africa if we don’t equip our children with competency skills and knowledge which will enable them to thrive in this globalize world?