THE greatest challenge for any new government is how successfully they will address and manage teachers’ condition of service efficiently and effectively.
Teachers in Solomon Islands are government public servants who have needs that must be satisfied and feelings that have to be taken into account.
School environment is vigorously difficult and the future is largely unknown without their service.
It is therefore, the responsibility of the government of the day to use all available resources to provide the best possible and favourable environment for our teachers.
It is an undeniable fact that the success and failure of the school lies in the hands of the school teachers.
Teachers’ condition of service is an issue where many political parties contesting the National General Election were using it as a bait-strategy in their campaign trail and I assume last election was no exception.
Politically many candidates were seeking political will during the national general election (NGE) saying that if they get into power, teachers’ condition of service will soon be solved.
This is exactly some of the pretty promises given by some of the candidates contesting under some big political party names.
In many instances, teachers are used as front-liners in many political campaigns because of their strength in public speaking in many rural constituencies by virtue of their positions.
For the purpose of background information, a good number of MPs elected to the National Parliament every four years are teachers by profession.
And many of them now become politicians by career, yet teachers issue is still an issue to be solved.
In my short account in the teaching profession, I come to realise the fact that education is one of the ministries that get the lion’s share in the national budget.
However, the three key areas of education in terms of schools are: academic, infrastructure and staff development.
Academic is focused on how effective the curriculum is delivered, the infrastructure includes; the buildings and classrooms and the staff development specifically looks at the teachers’ training and welfare.
The welfare is the centre of teachers’ condition of service.
In other words, we can have the best science laboratory, best classrooms, best libraries, best curriculum and the best teachers in the schools but if the teachers’ condition of service is less attractive then all these resources are not meaningful in any case.
So how can we expect quality delivery of teaching-learning in our schools? Or how can our students’ learning be assessed, monitored, measured, reported and evaluated effectively?
These are the rising questions raised overtime. As a result, the most qualified teachers are leaving teaching for greener pasture with better condition of service.
Teachers will continue to seek job that is rewarding, attractive and fulfilling.
Despite hundreds of them graduating with bachelors and masters degree from various tertiary institutions abroad it is only causing a brain drain in the teaching profession.
In Solomon Islands, teachers are some of the hardest working employees in any profession under some of the most difficult conditions.
In the context of Honiara schools, teachers are normally accommodated with their wantoks amidst some external pressures.
However, they can manage to supervise school extra-curricular programme like work line, sports and punishment after 4pm during the week.
Their advance preparation of teaching aids after each schooling day and preparing lesson plans overnight and during the weekends signify the fact that they are working tirelessly through tight schedule seven days a week.
They are trained professionals with professional qualifications to deliver quality education services.
They also have the experience, intelligence, judgment, relationship and insight that qualify them in terms of human capital in the teaching profession.
In the classroom as a curriculum practitioner, they teach critical curriculum to ensure learning takes place.
Critical curriculum is the curriculum that weaves together theory and practice where theory is transformed into classroom practices.
Teachers use this critical curriculum appropriately in their practice to create effective teaching-learning to ensure that there is a quality education.
As a result, they develop quality citizen and when there is quality citizen there will always be a quality society. This is exactly what this nation wants to see because of the belief that education should change this country for the better.
This is a conscience for a new world order that will ensure sustainability for this nation.
Equally, education is of great public importance. It is people-oriented enterprise and affects every aspect of our lives.
The main purpose of education is person-building that is, developing the individual. In this way, it determines an individual’s life chance, such as the ability to lead a comfortable and worthwhile life.
Adding, this is one of the biggest national duty and responsibility that teachers are doing for this country as far as nation building is concerned.
Therefore, as government employees they also deserve housing allowance and leave passage as their mandatory benefits under their contract of employment.
Yet, their conditions of service are generally less attractive. They are working beyond 8 hours shift just like the nurses and the police who are paid housing allowance and leave passage better than them.
This means that they work more but earn less in their fringe benefit.
The DCC government should explore more innovative approaches that would make teaching a more rewarding, attractive and fulfilling career. Can DCC government really make a change for the good of teachers?
Recently, Solomon Islands National Teachers Association (SINTA) General Secretary has given DCC Government until April 19th to attend to teachers’ grievances over housing allowance and leave passage.
This means that failure on the part of the Government will result in a nation-wide strike. Over the years when this issue is not addressed, it gives teachers signs of negligence, irresponsibility and non-recognition for their contribution in the facets of educational development in this country.
And in such scenario it begs the following questions. What will be the government social responsibility in such situation?
Can DCCG make a difference in this issue than using law to deviate the issue like what NCRA did in 2013 teachers’ strike?
Furthermore, it will be a setback for the education system of this country. In the service-oriented profession like teaching, strike can deprive students from the services they deserve and have a potential of jeopardizing safety to the public.
These are costly to the Government, the teachers as employees, students, parents and stakeholders. If a strike is prolonged, the cost of students losing instructional hours may never be fully recovered in terms of soft skill.
A fine example is the four consecutive weeks of teachers strike in 2013. It is a delay for many supportive parents who are paying school fees while portion of academic term has been wasted.
Unless government improves teacher’ conditions of service, they cannot help address the increasing problem of teachers’ absenteeism experienced in schools around the country.
As government employees, teachers can maintain that their satisfaction would lead to improve morale and their dissatisfaction can adversely affect their morale in teaching career. Students will be in jeopardy of missing so much lessons that they would not be able to make up for the lost instructional time.
Needless to say, their right to education is denied and detrimental when the government fails its functions. As a result, no one wants to see the same feat repeated after April 19th mid-night because students were particularly affected by such loss previously in the past.
Teachers as government employees holds the belief that one of the basic reasons for the formation of the DCC government is to address long standing issue in the country so that justice can prevail and there can be stability in our society.
With this, I think it is about time that Government should address this issue for teachers because it is an issue affecting the lives of the people in this country.
If the DCCG can promote the interest of indigenous people of Ontong Java by issuing them an export license then teachers too deserve better condition of service.
But if the government ignores teachers’ condition of service then what will be the real excuse? When will any government put an end to this issue?
Finally, I salute the hard working teachers who had served their time in this profession over the last thirty years under this meager condition of service.
Teachers therefore are hoping that DCCG will soon do the right thing in addressing this long standing issue now and forever.
So that teachers across the country will remember ‘Democratic Coalition for CHANGE Government’ for many years to come.
By EDDIE H. HUITARAU
USP SI Campus