Poor Teachers Create a Cycle of Mediocrity

I was feeling unwell recently and an old friend gave me a courtesy call to see how I was faring.

After graduating in January 2013, with a degree in education, he immediately got a job at a private school to teach both English Language and Literature in English.

To cheer me up, he told me what he considered a funny story. He said that his mentor teacher had put him to test by asking him to sit for last year’s (2013) final papers for the subject he teaches.

This young man scored 60 per cent in English and a ‘miserable’ 45 per cent in Literature. He is the man that the school and parents expect to help their children excel in these subjects!

Surprisingly, his job is not at stake. He is seen as one of the vibrant young blood with capacity to propel the school’s objectives. Maybe because he is comfortable with the little salary [allowance] the school offers.

Though my friend considered this story funny, I was both worried and shocked. I know him well. His childhood dream was to become a lawyer but his chances started dwindling when his best O-level result was a credit five.

They were further buried when he got ten points at A-level. At this stage, he considered himself a failure. He, therefore, settled for education, majoring in Literature where he had done best with a C (4 points) at A-level. My first question after this conversation was where our education system was headed.

It reminded me of the motto of Uganda National Teachers’ Union (Unatu) which goes: ‘Because we are, the nation is’.

With a teacher who can hardly make an average mark out of a paper he teaches, what can you expect of those he teaches?

I am sure that there are many teachers out there who are worse than my friend. Educationalists and policy experts have generally blamed the poor academic performance to a non-existent institutional framework.

To try and tackle the problem, the Uganda government introduced the Thematic curriculum at primary level and is currently drafting a skills-based training curriculum for O-level. In addition, they launched the ‘Skilling Uganda’ programme to promote vocational and entrepreneurship skills training.

While the above are brilliant moves, I think government forgot to deal with the primary factor – rejuvenating the prestige of the teaching profession. I believe such programmes will never materialise unless we have the best of instructors. My friend is contented with his mediocre teaching because he is not in this job by choice but by fate.

In the past, teaching was a privilege and it attracted some of the best brains. This reality provided for knowledge sharing as the best created the best. Unfortunately, this has long changed and today being a teacher attracts ridicule and scorn. As a result, teacher training institutions are filled with a crop of second-best students, who only crawl through the system, and are let loose on our children.

The best performers, on the other hand, enroll for such trendy courses as engineering, medicine, law or business administration. As a result, a cycle of incompetence at all levels of education is created. Because the teachers at lower levels are poor, both financially and intellectually, only a few of their students excel.

This leaves schools with the same ‘sub-standard’ teachers – meaning similar mediocre performances at final exams. At university level, when ‘A’ students see lecturers complaining about poor pay, they lose the little morale they had to stay and teach. The university, therefore, loses its best performers to potential employers and retains the desperate second-best as junior lecturers.

With this scenario, the universities also stand a risk of churning out half-baked ‘experts’ – and the cycle continues. I think it is high time the ruling elite and policymakers in the education sector stopped treating symptoms and tackled the cause. They should go back to the drawing board and provide incentives that once made teaching one of the most revered professions.

First, a consistent programme for in-service teacher appraisals should be put in place. For right thinking people, teachers should be among the top-paid professions. There is no reason to prioritise teaching patriotism to Ugandans when teachers are crying for a 20 per cent salary increment!

Why spend billions on legislators to tell Ugandans how good the NRM party is when we are planning to reduce on the capitation grant to public schools?

We should get our priorities right – and it starts with teachers.

Source : The Observer

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