Ghanaian teachers dying out of frustration
Any child growing up in Ghana today would normally have second thoughts about becoming a teacher in the future. Quiz the child further and he or she would mention any of the well-known professions apart from teaching. The reason? Most Ghanaians now hate the profession because it is low paying and conditions of service are very deplorable.
Generally, a vast number of people who go into teaching do so only when they fail to meet their cherished dreams of pursuing other professions. Like some professions that are deemed to be selfless, teachers are often told their reward is in heaven. But on earth, and specifically in Ghana, a number of teachers remain very miserable.
In 2001 alone, of the 228 primary and secondary school teachers who died in Ghana's Central Region, 205 of them - or 90 percent - reportedly died as a result of alcohol-related ailments, while the remaining 10 percent died from varies other causes. One particular district in the region, Assin, is the hardest hit; it recorded the majority of deaths. There were 36 deaths out of a population of 60 teachers.
This revelation has sent shock waves around the country. The reason for this phenomenon is not far-fetched. "Most of the teachers took to drinking due to the frustration they encounter as a result of the delays in the payment of their salaries," says Isaac Mensah, Assin District Chairman of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT). "They subsequently got addicted to alcohol and eventually died from excessive drinking", he adds.
The situation has contributed to the deteriorating standards of education in the impoverished Assin area. Mindful of the repercussions, GNAT's district office is now seeking the services of psychologists to counsel the teachers on how to cope with stressful situations and frustrations, particularly in rural communities.
Coping with stress continues to be a major issue confronting Ghanaian teachers. A study by university scholars R.M and A.K Apekey, which investigated stress and how Ghanaian schoolteachers are coping with it, showed that the issue of low salaries is one of the major problems that teachers have to contend with.
The study also revealed that lack of accommodation was also one of the most frustrating events experienced on the job. It notes that 'having faith in God or praying'; 'taking time to think about the problem'; and 'putting in more effort to correct the situation' were the three most frequently used coping strategies among the teachers.
Problems associated with teachers' pay continue to arise very often. Teachers - especially those in the rural communities - still cannot fathom why they should suffer before they receive their meagre salaries. On April 15 of this year, the Accra High Court had to order the Ghana Education Service (GES) to calculate and pay in full the severance and end-of-service benefits of 9,615 teachers who were redeployed by the GES between 1988 and 1998. The teachers initiated the action after the GES failed to pay them their end-of-service and severance entitlements.
Until recently, teachers commanded a lot of respect in their communities. Mike Yeboah speaks of his experience: "I used to take pride in teaching because teachers were accorded respect in the Ghanaian society. Parents showered us with gifts and all kinds of foodstuffs. Teachers were contacted for advice on social and political issues. In short, we played the role of effective opinion leaders." It's a different world for Yeboah and his colleagues now. These days, teachers have been pushed off their former position of glory. Their conditions of service keep deteriorating and with them come poor quality teaching, which in turn churns out students who are barely able to read and write.
Most teachers, especially those in the basic and secondary levels, now supplement their incomes by engaging in petty trading, sometimes to the neglect of their students. In some schools, they operate a welfare system by pooling resources together and helping each other. This unofficial trend has served to mitigate the problems they encounter.
"Teachers generally are their brother's keeper", Yeboah maintains. "Our members borrow from the welfare fund in times of emergencies, for instance, if any of us is bereaved or on admission at the hospital the facility can help in paying off any indebtedness", he stresses. Mercy Annan, a teacher, also believes the job is quite frustrating too: "There is no motivation for teachers at the moment. No teacher dares punish a pupil now for fear that the child's parents will come to attack you physically on the school premises or ambush you in town."
Even parents who might be educated enough to appreciate the need to correct their children often tend to rebuke, threaten, and demoralise teachers when their children are corrected in school. Stories about parents assaulting teachers in the full view of pupils have been given prominence in the media, much to the chagrin of teachers.
Teachers, especially those in the rural areas, have also had to contend with a crop of pupils who do not seem to be interested in education, no matter how hard one tries to motivate them. "The teacher is always told to improvise," says Yeboah. "But improvise with what?" he queries. "The logistic support is not there so it is difficult to make any meaningful impact," Yeboah reckons. Indeed, the near absence of basic materials for teaching in the public basic school system has led to some teachers being indifferent.
The government has now realised it ought to do something about the plight of teachers by indicating that it is prepared to correct the disparities between teachers' salaries and those of other professions. The resolve to honour the best teachers nation-wide seems to be on the agenda now. The government agrees that is the only way to encourage the disenchanted lot of teachers.
The current top teacher recently received 150 million cedis (about US$21,429) as the prize money for his meritorious service. Incidentally, Joseph Yaw Nyarko, the recipient, did not readily have his money. The ministry delayed handing over of his prize money, a situation that was heavily criticised by the media. Ahmed Ayuba, Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Education, however, maintains that the ministry is committed to ensuring that the nation's best teachers are recognised and rewarded.
There is a saying in the local parlance that when one marries a teacher, the only benefit that one could get from such marriage is, literally speaking, a piece of chalk - a point that buttresses the widely-held view that teachers are in bed with poverty. Perhaps this perception could change if the government commits itself to creating opportunities for teachers in the country. This is the only way they can help keep the body and soul of teachers together.