Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Gambia's failing schools

Fatou Lamin Faye, Minister of Basic and Secondary Education
The rate at which teachers in upper basic schools are leaving the profession is "accelerating" at an alarming rate, according to a recently concluded study by The University of The Gambia.

The dwindling supply of teachers couple with the rapid rate of expansion of schools, is creating an imbalance in the ratio of teachers to pupils that can only affect the quality of instruction the students receive and the overall quality of education the students receive.

The study also confirms a long established truism that there is strong correlation between teacher quality cum quality instruction and student performance.  It is because of this well established fact that priority was given to continuous teacher training and in-service training of primary and secondary school teachers, to continually upgrade their skills and to keep them motivated.

Teachers are leaving the profession for higher paying jobs, according to the study.  But previous studies have also shown that, while higher salaries contribute to the attrition rate, other factors including housing in duty stations, career advancement within the education ministry and/or the wider civil service, are equally important factors in contributing to the retention of qualified teachers.

Others find their way, according to the study, into private sector employment, mainly as bank tellers. Some of these former teachers, we are told, are being replaced by members of the Green Boys brigade who can neither read nor write - they are functional illiterates who are now teaching our children in our schools.

Even when the Ministry tries to address the problem by introducing incentives such as hardship and retention allowances, the study concludes that these efforts "have not been successful" because it did not stem the tide.

Why are the efforts failing where they succeeded in the past?  The teaching profession has been degraded under the A(F)PRC regime.  It is a regime that has successfully elevated the status of professional politicians that most of the teachers in the field have transformed themselves into the local APRC apparatchiks.

They are now the local Councillors, party operatives and parliamentarians. Leadership is lacking both at the level of the Ministry of Basic Education and at the level of the presidency where the priorities are more about creating the illusion that everything is fine and dandy as long as you keep the people occupied with celebrations, "Benachin and Soulouh Balahh" cooking competition and high school girls beauty pageant competition.  

It is also very common to find former teachers among the thousands of Gambians who've elected to vote with their feet by joining the mass exodus to Europe via the Mediterranean who are driven more by the dire economic condition that the country finds itself with little hope of recovery in sight.