September 28, 2022

Mr. Flemming Sorensen, International Secretary-DLF Danish Teachers’ Union-danmark

 

By Albert Baron Ansu

The Sierra Leone Teachers Union, (SLTU) is integral to the success of the education for development mantra of government. It is things falling into place that the Union’s national executive council members from across the country met a couple of days ago to align their strategic plan with the New Direction flagship project underway. This is sending a reassuring message in the face of accountability and transparency burning questions that cannot be buried.

Coordinator of the referenced strategic planning process, the union’s Senior Assistant Secretary, Alieu Deen Conteh was upfront and upbeat to indicate their preparedness to recommit to the changing trend of productive engagement with the ministry of education and other partners.

In the unfolding conversation geared towards the development of a comprehensive blueprint that details roles of relevant actors, resources in human and logistical needs, monitoring and appraisal of key milestones are bound to be factored.

What is the scope and breadth of the government’s fine details of the free education strategic document in the making? The question is niggling.

It cannot be pre-empted in restrictive terms of what have been highlighted-roles of actors- in their amorphous form- teachers, parents, local councils, civil society, media, development partners and private sector, the political class and who else? This list cannot be exhaustive but the aforementioned are critical players.

Logistics and infrastructure cannot be discussed if schools and learning materials are not factored. The bad road connective to some of the remoter fringes of the country has bearing on access to free and quality education.

Yes, the inspectorate division of the ministry of education is grossly inadequate; which calls for civil society and media traction in this arrangement.

So the Danish Union of Teachers International Scribe Flemming Serenssen, who says they have been working with the SLTU without dictating to them, but creating space and time for conversation in ensuring efficient free education outcomes, lauds the strategic alignment process between the government and the union.

“It is good that the ministry and union are talking about this free education, new plan for education is positive…”

Danish Union of Teachers has been working with the SLTU for over twenty years and Flemming Serenssen is full of commendation that the union is making strides in many areas.

His fears are there even as he is hopeful that this plan is going to work in the mid and long term.

The issue of not paying an estimated ten thousand teachers who are in classroom is ridiculous, according to the DLF International Secretary. Some of those affected have contended with the situation for close to six years.

How can this be the case when the Ministry of Education under the past government claims to have recovered an estimated fifty seven million USD in ten years from the purported weeding of ghost teachers?

This is the question I posed to Senior Assistant Secretary Augustine Garvey Karim.

He said: “we cannot speak to that because the ministry has been doing that in isolation.”

And this is the problem with no centralized data on the roll of teachers in spite of the parallel efforts in that regard.

The SLTU had been in position to register its members and provide them with ID cards. So the union can be in position to account for thirty to thirty five thousand teachers. This is apparently at variance with what the ministry record could be and it cast doubt on the effectiveness of the ghost teachers elimination drives for which millions of dollars have been expended on over the ten years.

The volume of work load that free education is going to demand means- the need to exceed the existing teachers workforce. More pupils are going to be enrolled; more teachers-pupil contact hours required in a single shift regime; how feasible?

And an estimated ten to fifteen thousand teachers have not been approved. The pre-positioning of teachers that adequately meets the changing trend is an uphill task. What are the new incentives to be considered as a motivation to enhance quality? The thinking is ongoing at the ministry of education and the country is curious.

But there is need for broader consultation on this; wider consensus cultivation is the surest way to go.

The SLTU leadership has over the years enhanced its negotiations ability as indicated from the review of what had been achieved in 2014- 2017 strategic plan. How this will play out in the evolving new direction can be measured in due course.

ICT and Gender leadership capacity building trainings; including awareness on union matters for new members are other key deliverables the strategic alignment has to sustain.

The political will cutting across parties is even important for the budget implications for what this program entails is soon going to be the new challenge. Huge money to be directed to education means accountability and transparency have to be put on high alert.

This where the process have to be retroactive to probe the issues that could easily by glossed over to becloud the understanding on what has worked well and what has not worked well.

Why for instance nobody is asking about the four hundred and thirty billion leones, the equivalent of fifty seven million dollars that the Public Relations Officer of Ministry of Education said that they were able to recover from the ghost teachers exercise? The money could have been redirected to payment of backlog salaries of the thousand of teachers, or the incentivizing of neglected schools bereft of ideal learning facilities.

We cannot go forward without resolving some of these pertinent issues. We have to further take the probe to local councils devolution alignment in this process. When government subventions are going to be paid to schools what are the mechanisms in place for the local councils to coordinate the judicious utilization of the funds?

Public private partnership can be detracted in this conversation. The private schools cannot be left to their own modus-operandi in a way that that will take away from free education agenda.