The crisis that is currently obtaining in the education sector, and the apparently self-contradictory and confused manner in which the government seeks to address the problem is regrettable.
Before all else, it is critical to note that the government, by choosing to withdraw salaries of striking teachers as a solution to the crisis, is provoking deeper confrontation which is likely to lead to substantial cost to learners who are not involved in the conflict.
In all fairness, it is true that government has treated teachers like second-class civil servants who do not deserve proper compensation for their efforts and who can be easily forced back to work by a threat to deepen their misery through salary withdrawal.
When the rest of the civil service was awarded various compensatory allowances and salary increments, especially during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, teachers, who were then on school holiday, were completely ignored. Dangers of this unequal treatment of workers were sounded severally to government, but the warnings fell on deaf ears and the discrepancy between salaries widened.
When schools opened and teachers refused to go back to work, the government cried foul and has now turned to hard-knuckle tactics. They have deployed district and provincial education directors to provide names of striking teachers with threats to dock their salaries.
The teachers, however, argue that they are not striking for better salaries or working conditions, but are simply incapacitated and therefore unable to carry out their duties. They are demanding a restoration of their salaries as at 2017 when the average salary for a teacher was US$500.
Various other factors, some of which were brought about by the novel coronavirus, vindicate the teachers’ position. Returning to work under Covid-19 conditions creates far more work and other challenges for educators who have not received any salary increments like fellow civil servants, especially those in the security sector who now earn close to double their education counterparts.
So, the fact is that teachers, who are already stretched too thin, are being asked to do more with less. But, instead of looking at these concerns and showing seriousness in at least considering the educators’ complaints, the government has resorted to bully tactics.
The government should appreciate that teachers do not enjoy going on strike and abandoning classes. In fact, stress, depression and anxiety levels among teachers — and nurses alike — rise because of the situation they find themselves in – abandoning needy students and sick patients.
The government needs to put genuine efforts in bringing normalcy back at schools. Some of the decisions that they come up with do not sound like they have been discussed in Cabinet by a group of grown-up men and women at all.