Is it perhaps time to detach teachers from the larger public service?

Is it perhaps time to detach teachers from the larger public service?

As someone previously in the employ of the Ministry of Education and as former member of the Ministry of Education and the Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu) negotiating team, the looming teachers’ strike has been on my mind for the past few weeks. I therefore feel obliged to add my opinion to the current impasse.

The salient questions I would like to pursue are: Whether the strike is avoidable; Whether there is something that could still be done to avert the strike; Whether remuneration is the only issue at stake propelling the looming strike under the guidance of the leading teachers’ union in the country?

I am of the opinion that there is more to the impasse than the eye can see at the moment. The strike will obviously not only affect the progress of the mass of the 2016 learner population, or the on-going and upcoming examinations, but will also be a setback for the country in many ways. I am saying so simply because of the on-going legal pressures and other social consequences associated with the strike.

Many, including the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), the umbrella body to which Nantu is affiliated, seem to be of the opinion that the ball is in the hands of the two parties, namely, the government and the teachers to find an amicable solution in the national interest. This is possible if the bargaining teams are wholly prepared and willing to go back to the drawing board. Why that option is not pursued, only the two parties know better.

There is a school of thought arguing for the detachment of the teaching service from the larger public service by perhaps considering the creation of a ‘Teaching Service Commission’, including aspects like teacher licensing.
In fact, I subscribe to this school of thought as I wrote and argued along the same lines in the past. The main argument at the time was that the teaching profession was complex, unique, and large and required separate sets of rules, regulations and governance compared to the rest of the public service.

There are vast, critical inequalities in the teaching profession in terms of the working environment (urban/rural), teacher training, teacher attitudes and commitment towards the profession as well as the inequity in resource allocation for schools. These factors influence the provision of quality education. Other pertinent issues pertaining to teachers’ conditions of service are difficulties to attract and retain suitably qualified teachers to especially remote areas of the country, and the working hours of teachers. These have also continually been a bone of contention.

All these pertinent challenges in the teaching service of course require massive funding from the State but whether they are affordable at this stage of development is a different matter. Therefore, teachers not getting what they demand and having to make the decision to go on strike or not required careful consideration of all context and conditions by all parties and not just the three (3 %) percent difference at stake.

Mind you, these are the professionals who are expected to mould and train future nurses, teachers, doctors, lawyers and so on.

The Namibian Constitution provides for the establishment of the Public Service Commission with the main function of advising the President and Government on the appointment of suitably qualified persons to the public service as well as the remuneration of such persons.

The current arrangement under the Public Service Commission has not been without its bottlenecks when it comes to collective bargaining and conditions of service for teachers, resulting therefore in teachers’ discontent as they feel they are always on the receiving end compared to the rest of the public service even in cases they perceive as justifiable. The Education Act currently under review presents the opportunity to review some of the pertinent issues within the teaching service.

The education fraternity carries the responsibility to re-examine the teaching profession especially in the light of the looming teachers’ strike. In doing so, we should view the current impasse not only as a remuneration matter, but we must apply a holistic approach in unpacking the issues including the possibility of detaching the teaching profession from the rest of the public service.

• Sebedeus !Naruseb is employed by the International University of Management (IUM). He writes in his personal capacity. E-mail: snaruseb@gmail.com

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