The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education recently introduced a raft of measures aimed at improving the quality of education while at the same time ensuring all children have access to education regardless of their social status. The ministry banned extra lessons, scrapped teachers’ incentives and banned entrance tests for Form One.
The ministry’s argument in banning extra lessons is that teachers have adequate time during the school term to cover the syllabi. The move has been welcome by most parents who feel teachers were deliberately delaying covering the syllabi in order to justify holiday lessons which meant extra income for them. Teachers charge between $3 and $10 a pupil per week for holiday lessons and a class has an average of 40 pupils.
Those who are for holiday lessons say it is unfair for government to impose a blanket ban on holiday lessons as doing so disadvantages slow learners. They argue that teachers even without being paid have always had remedial lessons for slow learners hence the importance of holiday lessons so that such pupils are given time to catch up. Some parents have called on the government to allow extra lessons for examination classes such as O and A-Level classes. The parents feel that the country risks a drop in pass rate if the ban on holiday lessons is imposed on all classes.
The government’s decision to ban entrance tests for Form One has been described as a recipe for disaster. According to some parents there will be chaos at schools if the schools do not use entrance tests to screen applicants. Some schools charge up to $20 per pupil and invite in some cases as many as 2,000 pupils when they want to enrol less than 200 pupils.
Schools have therefore been accused of using entrance tests to fundraise. Some schools even have the temerity of conducting such entrance tests twice in order to raise more money. It is against this background that government has banned these entrance tests and insists that the enrolment should be based on Grade Seven results. The government argues that the purpose of Grade Seven results is to assist schools to select the best qualified pupils.
The other decision by government which has caused uproar is that of scrapping teachers’ incentives. According to the government, the incentives divided teachers with those in urban areas getting the incentives while those in rural areas were not paid anything. Pupils whose parents could not afford incentives were victimised by teachers who refused to teach them. The incentives were introduced in 2009 to motivate teachers whose salaries were very low. Teachers were being paid between $150 and $400 a month as incentives depending on the school.
Those supporting the continued payment of incentives are saying the move by the government has demoralised teachers and this will reflect on results of public examinations. They argue that government should have left it to individual school authorities to decide to pay or not to pay incentives. Government, they argue, is still paying some teachers way below the Poverty Datum Line which is pegged at $500 and therefore should not have banned the incentives. The education sector is one of the few sectors that have over the years witnessed rapid positive transformation. This is attributed to many factors that include among others, holiday lessons, teachers’ incentives and donor assistance in the form of learning materials such as textbooks.
While the government’s move in banning holiday lessons and scrapping teachers’ incentives was informed by the need to protect vulnerable parents, we are of the view that not much consultation was done. There is therefore a need for the government to re-examine the issue of holiday lessons and incentives with a view to coming up with a formula that benefits both the parents and pupils.
There might be a need to allow holiday lessons for examination classes as well as coming up with a ceiling for incentives until such a time that government is able to pay teachers a living wage.