|The Importance of Posting in Becoming a Teacher in Ghana (CIE, 2000, 46 p.)|
The paper began by noting the major problem in Ghanaian education: the concern about the quality of primary education and level of staffing in the rural areas. It also outlined the role of the education bureaucracy, GES, in exacerbating the problem through an ineffective postings procedure. For many newly trained teachers their experience of GES as they move from the colleges to the schools leaves them with a permanent image of a system that is neither fair or rational, rewarding deviance or manipulation and undermining professionalism. Thus, the occupational culture apparently undermines the development of a professional culture, which is then expressed in either rhetorical or individualised terms. The professional association, GNAT, representing bureaucrats and teachers is arguably compromised in its defence of teachers' interests when they conflict with the operations of the bureaucracy, as they often do. Furthermore, the contextual factor of the declining status of teachers within society may also undermine professional aspirations articulated in training and by the teachers themselves. This arguably encourages teachers to see their career in more individualistic terms, while many of the discourses surrounding teachers in Ghana speak to an older high status community-oriented conception of teaching.
On the other hand there are many positive signs that need to be noted: there are many teachers who accept difficult postings and show an individual commitment to the job that rises above poor pay and conditions. Despite some conflicts over expectations and tradition, there is still considerable goodwill towards teachers and the aims of education in many communities in Ghana, and there are signs that the SPAM project is encouraging dialogue between teachers, schools, and the community, with positive outcomes for all; in the process, it seems, teachers' roles may be reconstructed as servants of the community rather than leaders, but newly posted teachers may accept this if the community shows that it values them, through provision of foodstuffs for example. Although when I returned in 2000 the SPAM programme seemed to have stalled and was being given new impetus by a team being sent round the districts by GES HQ. Study leave is a key motivator for newly posted teachers and perhaps should be linked more closely to appraisal and the acceptance of difficult postings to create a professional culture that rewards good behaviour as it is often viewed in terms of personal rather than professional development. The recent increased emphasis on primary methodology in 3 years pre-service training is also questionable given the apparent career aspirations and trajectories of teachers involved in this study. In fact, this study highlights a need for longitudinal studies of teachers careers in Ghana, which may aid in planning future educational reforms.
There is a profound fear among newly trained teachers, with a modern individualistic outlook, that if you spend too much time in an isolated village without access to further education, you become "a village man", a term which strongly conveys the perceived ignorance of rural dwellers in the eyes of some urban educated Ghanaians. A solution needs to be sought that either builds on already-established links between would-be teachers and communities, such as the proposed district sponsorship scheme, which could be used to encourage young women to go to rural communities where they would perhaps feel safer, where they have relatives, for example. There are signs that small improvements in teachers' working and living conditions in rural areas, might encourage more enthusiasm for postings; and the policy of posting two or more teachers together to rural schools seems to be fairly effective, particularly in the case of women.
The bond, tying teachers to their first posting for a specified number of years, is being reintroduced this year and carries a considerable sanction (five times the amount spent on their training); whether it will be enforced within the current organisational framework is debatable. With GES receiving technical and financial support from a number of donor agencies, and the commonly expressed desire for changed expressed by individuals within the bureaucracy, there is some hope that a more rational bureaucratic culture will develop. It is much too early to say whether this is what will happen, but there was an interesting straw in the wind towards the end of the 1998 - 1999 academic year. The national headquarters of GES was full of recently put up posters informing all visitors that if they were dissatisfied with the service they received from the people they had come to see, they should make a complaint. It may seem like a small thing, but it highlights a growing awareness that GES exists to serve the education system and the public rather than itself. Whether GES at the national level will be willing to decentralise power to the districts, in line with publicly stated policy, remains to be seen. Also, it needs to be noted that there remain doubts about the capacity of districts to cope with deployment and salary payments in the short term.
In the 1999 Strategic Plan for Education, there is the following concrete promise in relation to incentives for rural teachers; perhaps revealing long awaited movement on the issue:
1200 units of teachers' accommodation will be constructed especially in remote areas as an incentive to attract trained and qualified teachers.
There are also the widely supported moves to increase school/community partnerships, which place the onus on communities to make posting to their school attractive to the new teacher. And, based on the evidence of my interviews, there are quite a few communities showing a willingness to provide free or subsidised accommodation and food in order to encourage teachers to stay. That leaves the difficult issue of what should be done in the case of communities that cannot or will not do the same, but it is certainly an improvement. The concept of district sponsorship for trainee teachers, as has already been mentioned, offers the hope of solving one of the major problems of posting, that newly posted teachers do not feel any agency in choosing their posting, often finding themselves posted to a district, even a region, that they would not have chosen. It has been suggested that a system of sponsorship, linked to the increased powers of district assemblies under the decentralisation programme, would achieve a number of desirable outcomes. It would encourage people planning to go to teacher training to find districts that needed teachers and then get sponsored by them on the condition that they would return to teach in that district and teach for the period of the bond. Thus the sense of lack of agency, disappointment and injustice that many feel as part of the postings process as it is now would be replaced by a more professional commitment to teaching in their chosen district. Ultimately, the holy grail of education in Ghana - posting trained motivated teachers to schools where they are needed and where they are willing to stay for enough time to make a difference - can only be achieved by acknowledging the links between organisational culture, professional culture, teacher thinking and willingness to commit oneself to teaching as a lifelong career. In the process a balance between the individual aspirations of teachers and the needs of the communities they serve in a rapidly modernising society needs to be found; a balance that transforms a culture of manipulation and resentment into one of professionalism and commitment, building on foundations that are already there.