By Tabora Bojang
The Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education has reacted with mixed feelings to a report by Unicef that alleged tens of thousands of primary school students lose significant learning time due to high teacher absenteeism.
The report, dubbed “Teacher attendance and time on task in primary schools in The Gambia”, says an average 14 percent of teachers get absent from school at least once a week while 11 per cent arrive late or leave early once a week, with 12 percent in rural schools and 7 per cent in urban schools.
Unicef said the report was conducted across the country and targeted 260 participants including students, teachers, regional education directors and cluster monitors.
It further shows that 10 percent of teachers report weekly absence while in school and 10 percent report limited time on task at least once a week, varying in rural and urban schools.
According to the UN agency, key factors informing such high teacher absenteeism ranges from salary, teachers health and transportation among others.
Reacting to these revelations, the Minister of Basic and Secondary Education Claudia Cole told The Standard that the findings “are very informative” and it will help the Ministry in making the education system better.
“We are going to be looking at it at senior management level and then we will try to take the necessary steps and strategies to make sure that we address the issue [teacher absenteeism], ” the minister added.
Unicef said key factors informing such high teacher absenteeism ranges from salary, teachers’ health and transportation among others. However, the Minister insisted that even though she found the report useful and informative, she does not agree with some revelations and some of the recommendations it highlighted.
“Talking about making sure we improve access to health facilities for teachers, are they [Unicef] saying that we put medical health facilities in schools? There are health facilities in the urban area and when teachers are sick, they need to report to those health facilities. If you talk about the rural areas, one can say the health facilities are far and in between and for that also, they [teachers] will need time to go and seek medical attention. So I don’t understand what they mean by improving access to health facilities for teachers. Teachers are not the only people in the community. Should other ministries also improve health facilities for their workers?”
Minster Cole, a former teacher, said the practice is that when teachers are sick “they need to be given an excuse to go and seek medical attention” at available health facilities.
She also cast doubts over claims in the report that Gambia, like many Sub-Saharan countries, is 146 hours short of global standard teaching time, saying some of the schools go beyond 880 hours of learning per annum.
“The internationally agreed learning hours is 880 hours per year and when we calculate contact hours at schools, there are schools that go even beyond the 880 hours. So I actually have my doubts on that revelation because when we go out for monitoring, we always calculate the learning time to make sure children are not losing contact hours.”
She said her Ministry devises series of strategies to ensure learning hours in schools are “uncompromised.” She expressed dismay that the agency failed to discuss the report with her Ministry before publishing it.
“They only shared the report with us, and two days after it was published. I want to believe that things could have been done better.”