World Teachers’ Day, October 5is a UNESCO initiative celebrated worldwide. It aims to highlight the contribution teachers make to society. This year’s slogan is ‘Teaching in Freedom, Empowering Teachers’.
What makes a teacher?
Teaching is one of the most complicated jobs as a social service today. It demands broad knowledge of subject matter, curriculum, and standards; enthusiasm, a caring attitude, and a love of learning; knowledge of discipline and classroom management techniques; and a desire to make a difference in the lives of young people.
As a Gambian education advocate, I want to look at the theme for this years’ commemoration of World Teacher’s Day – “Teaching in Freedom, Empowering Teachers” which is a strong and overwhelming theme that requires our collective effort towards building a “New Gambia”.
It is important that “teachers teach” in an atmosphere of freedom and security in the first place. This means teachers should be well motivated to teach as a vocation and a profession without fear or intimidation of any kind and form. They should have confidence that the job is secured and well paid- at least to meet their basic needs with dignity. It should be within the reach of the teacher to be able to fend for his/her family just as other public servants providing services.
We have seen situations when teachers are well motivated and encouraged to leave their families to work, live and teach in “hard to reach areas”. We have seen how these teachers have in turn motivated and encouraged students to “learn” with improved learning outcomes. These students have later become productive citizens. These in turn have contributed to better teachers who are not only proud but empowered and satisfied. This has also made teachers effective and efficient “social change agents”.
It is important that to make the theme “Teaching in Freedom, Empowering Teachers” a reality the government (public), the community and parents all have critical roles to play.
The government should and must provide the necessary policies coupled with a conducive environment starting from teacher training recruitment and ensure that there is security of tenure in employment. Provision must be made for the necessary infrastructure –classrooms, teaching and learning materials and a safe environment for both teachers and students. The government must also ensure that teachers everywhere are free to teach in an environment that is secured and free from all forms of intimidation. They must feel free to be members of any professional association or unions, subject specialists and the political parties of their choice. They should not feel threatened and should be free to participate in social and political activities.
Teacher retention, promotion and professional mobility should be based on merit and performance, the government should ensure that this happens in a transparent manner. Teachers should be supported with pre-service and in-service training by governments, provide them with decent and affordable places to live with their families with the basic amenities such as water, electricity and internet. Supportservices such as credit unions, housing and mobility (motor cars and motorcycles) can all contribute to teachers feeling free and empowered.
The communities should support all efforts to make teaching in freedom and empower teachers by becoming active participants and in collaboration with the teacher. The communities should provide leadership roles in counseling, management and guidance not only in the schools but to young and inexperienced teachers. The community contribution could also lead to the empowerment of teachers and enable teachers to teach in freedom.
I recall when I left school and joined the teaching service more than four decades ago, I was encouraged and motivated by the community. The district chief and other community leaders frequently visited the school, providing support and guidance in molding their children with the right attitudes and values in addition to the prescribed curriculum. They thus encouraged and motivated us to become professional teachers. They encouraged the inclusion of extra curricula activities in such areas as sports (both traditional and foreign) weaving, music and dance. They insisted that we must discipline the children both in and out of school and even at night.
The parents too have an important role to play in making teaching free and empower teachers. If teaching in freedom is to be attained, the parents need to support the teachers by participating and being involved in the management of the schools in their localities. They should not only enroll their children, buy books and uniforms. They should also be active members of the school management committees, mothers’ clubs and parent-teacher association, attend meetings and provide role models to the students. Parents should support extra curricula activities – thus making teachers feel safe and secure and that they are part of the community. Parents are the first teachers of their children and thus the foundation laid by the parents has lot to make teaching easier or difficult.
The empowering of teachers is as important as teaching in freedom. An empowered teacher is one who is confident, enthusiastic and motivated to be a teacher regardless of the conditions. S/he is has a mastery of the subject(s) matter and is interested in learning outcomes. It is for this reason too that government, communities and parents should support the empowering of teachers. They should not be intimidated and insecure.
By AlhMatarr S Baldeh
Retired Teacher and Education Advocate