Through the Public Service Commission, Government froze the recruitment of teachers in 2014, citing fiscal constraints. Between then and now the Government has introduced the Updated Curriculum, otherwise unofficially called the new curriculum.
We are not going to go into the other matter of how the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education inexplicably failed to use more than half of its allocation for 2018. That is subject for another instalment, shocking as it is given the shortage of books, potable water at most rural schools and low provision for BEAM.
Back to teachers, four years later, the Government has unfrozen the recruitment and is preparing to engage 3 000 new teachers, as a starting point. The figure does not sound anyway near adequate given that the vacancy gap stands at about 18 000, according to teachers’ unions.
Except that this a first step in bringing back sanity in classes where the teacher-to-pupil ratio had ballooned to unprecedented levels.
The standard teacher-pupil ratio, according to the new curriculum, should be one teacher to 25 pupils for ECD classes up to Grade 2. But the current ratio is on average beyond 55 pupils per teacher. The standard ratio for Grades Three to Seven is one teacher to 40 pupils but the current ratio goes up to more than 100 pupils per teacher. At secondary school the new curriculum rate is one teacher to 35 pupils but the prevailing rate is often way above 50.
That the conventional classroom is designed to accommodate 40 pupils also speaks volumes about the need to build more infrastructure at schools, including teachers’ accommodation, when funds permit.
The Government should, therefore, be encouraged to continue recruiting and building new infrastructure as the fiscus allows until the gap is filled.
It is fact not fiction that since 2014 the number of pupils enrolling in our schools from Early Child Development centres to secondary schools has continued to increase, while teachers got less and less due to various reasons.
The teacher-to-pupil ratio, especially in rural schools, ballooned to unbelievable rates, with a rare case of one teacher reported to have manned a class of 165 pupils. The average in rural schools has been one teacher to 100 pupils. Well, regardless of how good you have mastered the art of teaching, it would be a miracle to pay attention to all the pupils, or just half that number. Which must account for the falling pass rates, besides the mischief sometimes of the unions in making outrageous demands on Government, such as payment in American dollars.
That aside, the mathematics of how the teacher-pupil ratio ballooned is simple.
Imagine how many teachers have left the profession since 2014 for greener pastures? Imagine how many teachers have been lost through natural attrition? And, indeed, imagine how many teachers were fired for various misdemeanours? It is therefore critical for the Government to continue recruiting teachers to bring down the teacher-pupil ratio to around 30. We believe that is manageable and allows the teacher to give the average student maximum attention.
Given that teacher training colleges have been churning out graduates since 2014 despite the freeze on recruitment, the current move to recruit new teachers gives hope to graduates. For them, at least, there is a chance to get jobs.
On another note, this is the first time the Government is recruiting teachers under the new political dispensation and one can only hope that the corruption that was rampant in recruitment in the past won’t resurface. Everyone is waiting to see if the Government is walking the talk on zero tolerance to corruption. When well managed and implemented, the recruitment could be the beginning of good things in the education sector.