By Sanna Badjie
I am in full support of the teachers’ sit-down strike. If The Gambia Teachers’ Union turns from an institution that is established to stand for the interest and needs of the teaching fraternity in The Gambia into a propaganda machinery of The Ministry of Basic and Secondary School (MoBSE), it becomes unquestionably right for the teachers to create their initiatives to restore their dignity, respect and worth.
It could be recalled in February 2018, teachers engaged in a sit-down strike after their six-point demands were not met by MoBSE. The initial unwise reaction of MoBSE was to threaten the teachers to go back to school or face punishment and when MoBSE realised that the teachers were never moved by their empty threats, they were finally forced to diplomatically sit at the negotiation table and signed a six-point resolution with the GTU and the minister for Higher Education Research Science and Technology (MoHERST). The use of threats initially manifested the administrative incapacity of MoBSE to peacefully negotiate with the teachers and listen to their ordeals. On the other hand, signing the resolution was the way out to peacefully end the contentious issues affecting the teachers and enticed them to go back to the classrooms with the belief that MoBSE will ethically and morally respect what they signed.
From February to September, nothing meaningful happened and this obviously left the teachers with no option, but rightfully, to revive the strike until their rightful and legitimate demands are met.
It is so disheartening that the GTU, which in the first place should stand for the teachers’ legitimate interest, describe the teachers’ demand as unrealistic. This clearly manifests that either the union does not understand its responsibility as voices, ears and eyes of teachers; fails to constitutionally distinguish between the union and the state; or unwillingly wants to be a propaganda institutions of MoBSE to intimidate teachers.
A school of thought in public administration points out that the fact that civil servants are agents of public power providing services on which law, order, and public health depend, has raised the question whether they should strike. Another school indicates that if they cannot lawfully strike, they are deprived of the main weapon in pressing for improvement in the condition of service. This strike is the only opportunity for teachers to press for improvement of conditions of services and I support them 100%.
What are the “unrealistic demands” of the teachers as unwisely mentioned by GTU?
End delay of payment of allowances:
Only a person using rust-coloured glasses will believe this point is unrealistic. Allowances are not gifts or an aid, they are the legitimate entitlements of teachers and must be paid on time. It is traumatising for any human being to not be paid timely for his or her work, talk less of teachers who anchor the development processes of any state.
Taking myself as a former teacher for example: I was appointed as a qualified teacher on 16 January, 2016 but sadly and dehumanising enough, I had to painfully wait for almost four months before receiving my salary. Records don’t lie. MoBSE can check its archives. I can very well remember in March, 2016 when the paymaster came to my former school, Panchang Upper and Senior Secondary School, to pay the salaries of teachers. I patiently waited for all my colleagues to receive their salary and when it was my turn, the paymaster asked for my employment number and some other details which I gave him, but sadly, after carefully going through the voucher in search of my name, he could not see it. I isolated myself from the other teachers and went to my office and reflected and couldn’t eventually control my tears. Mr Trawally, the mathematics teacher can bear me witness. He calmed me down and encouraged me to keep the faith. I lived the story, it is not fiction. This just hints at how teachers struggle in doing the most important national duty. Teachers and all administrators, both at the GTU and MoBSE, know better what teachers go through.
Increment of salaries:
No human being in this world can pay a teacher; only God can, considering the role they play in the socio-economic development of states. Despite our patriotism and pan-Africanism, we need remunerations that will allow us take good care of our families and provide our basic need. Even the first citizens of the state, receive a fat salary despite his love for the country. Increasing teachers’ salary is not something impossible considering the wastage of sovereign national wealth on travels. For example, over D230 million is spent on the travels and per diems of our state managers just within seven months. If the state coffers are red, this whooping amount of money won’t be used for travels only. The state should mobilise well the sovereign national wealth and address the dying needs of the sovereign citizens.
It is true that democracy is expensive, governance is expensive, foreign policy is expensive and The Gambia needs to pursue her foreign policy objectives, but nation states must first outline their national policies and programmes then relate with partners in the international system to strengthen the national policies and other initiatives, thus a foreign policy is an extension of national policy. The political first sort out our schools, hospitals, farmlands, forests and other critical areas of development so that any outside assistance is just going to be complementary. This was the secret of the ‘Asian Tigers’ that led to their developmental successes.
Increments of double-shift by 100%:
It is more than fair for teachers who are teaching double-shift, and again it is only someone putting on a rust-coloured glasses who will see this full payment of the teachers as “unrealistic”. The ministry should either train more teachers to fill all vacant posts in the teaching sector or pay teachers in full – not half – their deserved earning. This is a clear indication of the capitalistic and the exploitative mechanism that the teachers are subjected to. It is now time to change the system by improving the condition of service.
Other demands such as provision of professional identity cards for teachers and payment of hardship allowances to teacher trainees posted in hardship zones are genuine and legitimate demands of teachers that must be met if sanity is to be restored in our educational system.
Finally, the failure of students in the past examinations, both nationally and internationally, in my opinion, is the fault of MoBSE. This is because of the lack of a sound leadership and the administrative capacity to take our education in the right direction. It is sad to realise that teaching and learning materials are not sufficient especially in schools in rural Gambia. Approved texts by WAEC are not enough if available; scientific apparatuses are not enough if available; scientific laboratories at both the Gambia College or the university where teachers are trained are like graveyards with few equipment. Will you blame teachers for the unavailability of these important teaching and learning materials? Give teachers what belongs to them and improve their condition of the services.