I am privileged to be the President of our Association as we hold our first ever delegates conference here in Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region. Two years ago, we held a very successful conference in Takoradi in the Western Region that became the “talk of town” not only amongst NAGRAT members but all others who had the privilege of participating in the conference in diverse ways. I have no doubt in my mind that this year’s conference with all its uniqueness will also leave an indelible mark in the history of the union. By the time this conference completes its business in the outlined constitutional amendment, resolutions and discussions our union will be one more step up the scale as a vibrant union that champions the course of teachers.
Today our union’s strength stands at 30,000; and being the voice of 30,000 graduate teachers places a lot of responsibilities on us, as a major stakeholder in Education, to protect the sanctity of our education system, including its assessment processes.
Mr. Chairman, our theme for this Conference “Protecting the integrity of Examination; if not us, then who?” will be dispassionately discussed. We will particularly put West African Examination Council on the spotlight. It appears the WAEC has unchallenged powers which are steadily making them inefficient behemoth. The actions and inactions of WAEC have gone unchallenged over the years and now is the time to raise our questions. It appears even the government of Ghana cannot stand up to WAEC. Therefore if not us, then who?
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The arbitrariness of WAEC has most of the time worked at the expense of students, teachers and parents. It is for instance, difficult to fathom why WAEC should inconvenience students and parents by moving examination centres in the course of examinations because of suspected malpractices. Malpractices occur when there is inadequate security in place. Therefore, why should students of Okomfo Anokye Senior High School be made to travel about 30 kilometers to write the rest of their papers in Kumasi because of malpractices at their centre? If invigilators are the problem, why won’t WAEC change them? If it is about security, why not beef it up. By moving the centre to another place, who pays the extra financial cost incurred by students and parents? What about the psychological cost to the students? What is even more unnerving is the frequent and mass cancellation of examination results without regret. It is time someone told WAEC that we are sick and tired of the bullying posturing.
Distinguished Chairman, NAGRAT commends the government of Ghana for the unflinching support for the inclusion of quality education in the Sustainable Development Goals which will be finalized in New York next month. It would be recalled that NAGRAT, as part of Education Internationals’ Unite for Quality Education Campaign, organized a colloquium to garner support for quality education to be a stand-alone goal in the SDGs. We are not entirely through yet but the early signs point to victory for quality education as a stand-alone goal.
Having supported this campaign for quality education also behooves us to renew our commitment to funding a 21st century education in Ghana. Indeed Ghana’s commitment and performance in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been highly hailed by the international community for achieving an access rate of 96% and completion rate of over 76%. However, the major issue which is of course missing in the MDG is that of quality.
Conference, let it be emphasised that education is a public good and a prime driver of social justice, therefore the quality of it is as well very important. The quality of education can be guaranteed when there are quality tools, quality teachers and quality environment. When schools lack the appropriate teaching and learning materials quality suffers. When we have all the tools but lack qualified teachers quality suffers and when the environment within which education is delivered is not conducive quality suffers. It is therefore important that as a nation:
• We provide schools with 21st Century teaching and learning tools such as projectors markers, books, flip charts etc. if a child in Finland, Korea, Singapore and even Rwanda is capable of doing Power Point presentation at class four, why can’t the Ghanaian Child? Even in the 21st century, our high schools continue to use chalk, in spite of all the health hazards and irritations associated with it. The seating arrangement in our schools remains the theatre form. Such seating does not enable critical thinking and collaborative work which are very crucial in the provision of 21st century knowledge and skills.
• It is further important that adequate number of well trained and motivated teachers are posted to our schools to help deliver quality education. Teachers should not only be trained but must be retained from time to time to keep abreast of modern best practices. Continuous professional development must be a priority for both the employer and the teacher to be able to deliver the desired learning out-come. This means the employer must make the training available and teachers must avail themselves of that training. Of course the expenditure might be enormous but the alternative is unthinkable. I therefore implore our government to reconsider its policy of non replacement of teachers who retire or leave the service. It is indeed a harsh policy that is only good at denying our students the required number of teachers. Teachers need to be well motivated to be able to devote their time to work. Teachers love their work so if well motivated they shall perform. Very often, we see teachers leave classrooms to attend to other businesses because their monthly pay can hardly sustain them as average citizens. Part-time classes have been so attractive to teachers because they need extra income to survive normally. I am never surprise to see teachers who are also shopkeepers, taxi drivers, farmers etc. They are, because as a nation, we always pay lip services to education and the teachers who deliver education. I always hate to hear people clutch to the despicable dictum that the teachers’ reward is in heaven. As we continue to pretend that teachers are well paid, teachers also continue to pretend that they teach well. My lamentations notwithstanding, I will still challenge our membership to be torch bearers of our profession, and as professionals, show more commitment to our job. We teach because we love our students and we desire to play a major role in shaping their future. Therefore, let not poor pay, de-professionalisation, privatization, politicization, austerity and obscurantism stand in our way.
• It is also important that the school’s environment is made conducive for academic work. We must fight against over bloated class sizes and over loaded curriculum that put intense pressure on educators. Let us reduce the workload on teachers as studies consistently point to alarming stress levels of teachers. Schools must have all that are necessary and beautiful for human survival such as good school building, secure laboratories and libraries, neat environment, hygienic washrooms, good playing facilities and adequate security.
If we want our students to be capable of competing favourably with their counterparts in Canada, Australia, UK and others as global citizens, then we need to invest more in education. The investment is worth it, giving the potential pay-offs that quality education stands to deliver.
Conference, while we commend all for the support during the campaign for quality education, we come to you again with a new campaign against a canker that threatens access to education as a public good. The canker is privatization and commercialization of education in Ghana. Naba Chairman, Edu-business is taking away the inalienable right of people to free education. NAGRAT recognize private schools as complement to public system but where we draw the line, is where private schools become competitors to the public system. It becomes alarming and disgraceful when resources which should have been channeled into the public system are used to support chain of schools which claim to target the poor but end up milking them. At the higher education level, massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the proliferation of private universities are threatening quality and as a nation, we need to step up to the plate and straighten things up.
Naba Chairman, two years ago in Takoradi, a number of resolutions were adopted that challenged all of us to fight for their successful implementation. The issues included pensions, the need for quality education, the need to revise our conditions of service, the issue of non-payment of newly recruited teachers among others. Indeed the General Secretary’s report will cover these issues extensively but let me be quick to say that looking at where we are on most of these issues, the message is clear; we still have a fight on our hands.
Conference, we have a fight on our hands because our issue on pensions does not matter so much to our politicians who rally together when it is about their pay and ex-gratia but appear despondent when it is about the retirement of workers whose toils build this nation. It is regrettable that the Deputy Attorney General has taken this issue of workers’ pensions as a personal fight for reasons best known to him alone. Yes he believes as a lawyer, that the court should be used to gag workers from saying anything about their own future but we promise him that we will not give up on to our pensions without fight. We know the forces that are working hard to frustrate the successful implementation of three tier Pension Scheme and we also know that they will eventually pay the price for this insensitive behavior; no matter how long it takes.
Distinguished Chairman, it is sad that government has halted the work of the committee that was put in place to explore amicable resolution of this impasse outside the court room. The committee completed its work and was about to present the final report to government for implementation; unfortunately, Mr. Haruna Iddrisu says the committee’s work should wait. It is further sad that the musical chairs at National Pensions Regulatory Authority (NPRA) continue. In five years, the NPRA has had five different Chief Executives. They are always sacked at time when they had become well enlightened to resolve our problems. Indeed the clear demonstration of governments unprepared to deal with our pension issues.
Conference we have a fight on our hands because our conditions of service expired in December 2010 and all attempt to review it has been frustrated by the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission. In 2013 we started negotiations on the non-financial aspect of the collective agreement but the fervor died due to lack of commitment on the part of government.
We have a fight on our hands because the salary arrears of teachers recruited since 2012, and arrears for teachers who went on promotion during the same period have not been paid. The vehicle maintenance allowances for those who qualify have not been paid since 2013 and the transfer grants of teachers who were transferred during this period have also not been paid.
We have a fight on our hands because the anti-teacher policies still continue. They continue because the allowances for teacher trainees have been taken away in spite of the incessant protestation by the teacher unions and other stakeholders. They continue because the National Best Teacher Award has been converted by our Minister of Education to National Best School Award. I suspect even the name of the Day will be changed from the “World Teachers Day” to “World School Day”. They continue because our teachers and heads of schools are threatened with dismissals and other sanctions without due process.
Conference, without sounding political but stating the fact, I say we have a fight on our hands because our President has actually developed the proverbial dead goat syndrome, if not the entire government. It will take extraordinary fight to win the battle ahead of us. The moment the fight begins, we must be prepared for the insults and vilifications from those people who have made it their business to hurl aspersions at us for crying out loud. We must be prepared for threats of various forms, including withholding of salaries. I am however not afraid and I know all of us here are not afraid and teachers are not afraid.
Let it be told that our very existence as teachers is under the spotlight, we need to fight for justice or die while trying. Let this conference send a strong message to the managers of our education that teachers are sick and tired of the austerity measures. We are not the cause of the economic woes and we cannot be made to suffer unduly for them. The injustices being meted out to us and our profession are alarming but let us not forget that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. Conference, now is the time to stick together than never before and to constantly remind very ourselves that an injury to the newly recruited teacher at Fumbisi who has been denied his three years salary arrears is an injury to all of us.
I implore you, conference, to take bold and tough decisions without fear. If we stay together, we are stronger in our fight and nobody can beat us. I leave all of us with this quote from Karl Max ‘Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains’. They have taken all our due from us so we no longer have a thing to lose. Fight we must! No matter cost.
I end my speech by assuring conference, that NAGRAT will do our best to join forces with our sister unions in this fight. However, we will not hesitate to go it alone if they failed to step up to the plate. It is therefore our prayer that government and Ghana Education Service will be pro-active in getting these issues resolved as quickly as possible to avert the unpleasant days ahead.