|The Importance of Posting in Becoming a Teacher in Ghana (CIE, 2000, 46 p.)|
|Chapter 4: The posting system: rational system or ''Unsavoury ritual''?|
"The Unsavoury Ritual" was the title of an editorial in the Daily Graphic (22/4/99), looking at the delays in paying new teachers' salaries
In Ghana, the posting system can be represented along rational Weberian lines (see, for example, Konadu (1994)). However, this is undermined in a number of important ways that profoundly affect the perceptions of newly trained teachers as to how it, and GES in general, operates in practice. The diagram overleaf (figure 2) shows the main stages of what is a highly complicated procedure. (See Konadu, 1994, for a more detailed description of this process)
When trainee teachers finish their 3-year training course, they are asked to select the 3 regions, in order of preference, where they would like to be posted. As has already been noted, there is a strong bias in trainees' choices to the more urban southern regions and only a few of my participants had chosen Central Region as a first choice. When trainee teachers make their selections, the most common order of preference is as follows: Greater Accra, Eastern Region and Ashante Region. These choices reflect a strong preference among trainees throughout the country for the Regions nearest the most developed cities in Ghana: Accra, Kumasi and Tema. The following quotation from a newly trained teacher is an example of one kind of behaviour that might be termed "teacher deviance". Along with newly trained teachers seeking urban posts in government schools, despite being given a rural posting, and the widely acknowledged problems in record-keeping within GES, this seems to have become increasingly common in recent years:
I had a friend who was posted to Brong Ahafo [to] a village you had to walk to the school so he said he wouldn't go so he found a private school in Tema. [Female teacher in an urban primary school]
Central Region would generally be the fifth most popular choice of region (behind Brong Ahafo, which is considered to have the best opportunities for setting up a farm). Its disadvantage is its high proportion of rural schools, but its main attraction is its southern location and relative nearness to the major cities and the two main higher education institutions for teachers: Cape Coast and Winneba universities. In fact, among all the newly qualified teachers I interviewed, further education was very high on their list of priorities, reflecting a universal desire to get qualified in order to move into higher status sectors of teaching or out of the profession altogether. The following quotation typifies this desire and, since he is nearer the universities having been transferred the previous year, he is in a position to further his studies and prepare for the university entrance exam in a way that teachers in the more isolated rural schools cannot:
When you go to school and others who were with you get a better job...so most teachers want to leave. Personally, I enjoy teaching but if I get a better job I will go. Now I am doing Art Education at Winneba to teach in Senior Secondary School [...] At school I wanted to be an artist. I had a skill and wanted to develop it. But it was unfortunate I didn't get the grades for Tech [Tertiary education]. At training college I did art and vocational skills, but I don't get a chance to do the art here so [at a JSS school] I have to force myself to teach catering. [Would you like to be a head?] Nobody likes to be that...[teacher in an urban JSS having been transferred from a rural school after one year]
On the posting form teachers can also state a preference for a certain kind of religious unit (Presbyterian, Catholic, Muslim etc.), which each run a relatively small number of state schools in each region. These units have a limited amount of autonomy and tend to be relatively overstaffed and poor communications with district offices can offer a loophole in the system, leading teachers to get early transfers from their initial posting, as the following example reveals:
[Were you happy with your posting?] Not really, you know when you go to the new station there are always problems. Initially I was sent to E. (a rural school). I didn't report because I wanted to upgrade myself. When I was released and came to this place, I thank my stars, though the transport is a problem. [How did you get a transfer?] I got a release. I decided to change from the Catholic to the AME Zion educational unit. [Was it easy or difficult?] Initially, before I came out I was looking for a good posting as I was a sportsman, I needed to be in certain areas to train pupils and officiate sports events. [I've heard people often pay bribes for early releases...] It would depend on the link...everybody would prefer the town for extra classes to upgrade yourself. A village that only gets a car once a week is very difficult. [Male teacher who didn't report and got reposted to an urban JSS]
One district director in this study noted that a Unit with two schools had allowed ten teachers to transfer in one year, without consulting or considering the likely cost and impact.
Trainees are also asked to state any health problems that might prevent them from working in a rural area, backed up by a health certificate, and many teachers see emphasising health problems as a way of transferring from difficult postings:
In fact, at first, I was posted to a village (S.) and because of my health things were not going well with me so I went to the District Office and was posted here. The village is far and vehicles are not patronising that place and I always had to walk so I was finding it very difficult. The doctor recommended I should be transferred. [Bribes?] No, I just confronted the circuit supervisor and he asked me to present medical forms and an application to the district office and she gave [the director] gave me an immediate transfer. [Female teacher transferred from a rural to an urban primary school]
Once the form has been filled out, this information is then processed centrally and teachers are posted to regions; the regional postings officer then has the responsibility to assign them to specific schools. The following are taken from the 1997 guidelines for posting newly trained teachers:
60% of trained teachers should be posted to primary schools and 40% should fill vacancies in JSS. There would be no replacement of pupil teachers [underlined] [...] Regional Directors are advised to take special note of Districts within their regions where there are acute shortage of teachers when doing the District allocation [...] Due to complaints from teachers, Regional Directors are advised to impress upon their District Directors the need to assist the newly-trained teachers to find accommodation in their new communities [...] Due consideration should be given to teachers with health problems [...] These teachers should be posted nearer to places where there are hospitals or clinics [...] Female teachers should be sent to urban areas and male teachers who did not choose the region should be posted to towns as incentives to let them stay and work. [National Postings guidelines 1998, Manpower, GES]
Implied in these guidelines are a number of problems faced by newly trained teachers when they are posted that will be discussed shortly, but it is worth noting that the rational operation of the system is seriously undermined by a number of key factors. Firstly, due to poor record keeping and internal communication within GES, some teachers attempt to change the region they have been posted to by underhand means:
This year we had a little problem. Some of the cards for posting went missing and people exploited the gap. People take advantage and do other things. Some teachers claimed that they hadn't had a posting (even though they had) because they didn't like where they had been sent. Over the years it's a few, but this year it's been very bad. Some went to Accra and brought photocopied cards, I intercepted some of them and forced them to return to their former districts. [Regional Postings Officer]
Similarly, when teachers are posted to schools and they discover they are in rural areas, a significant minority try to get an immediate transfer. The following quotations illustrate the breakdown in organisational culture from a number of perspectives and they are instructive when considered side by side. The first is a view from the head of Manpower in GES, and while acknowledging the problem, it suggests it is open to a rational solution:
Avoid allocating teachers to districts, which clearly do not require any more especially when nationally we have a shortfall in our trained teacher requirement. Let us try to be very fair and firm. We know it is not going to be easy since people are going to kick against posting to the very places where their services are needed. The past year was terrible especially for Western Region and the regions in the northern sector of the country and to some extent Central region. [Presentation given by Louisa Owusu to GES Postings Officers at GESDI, Ajumako, 11/4/99; my italics]
In this quotation there is the rhetoric of enforcement alongside an implicit acknowledgement of organisational breakdown in the phrases I have put in italics. In the second quotation, the Ghanaian consultant, James Nti, who was cited earlier, notes that the system is widely perceived to be open to abuse:
[The problems in GES are] borne out by the imbalance in the distribution of trained teachers. A case in point is the superfluity of trained teachers in urban areas in contrast to inadequacy in rural schools. This situation is created and encouraged by the fact that teachers posted to deprived areas use their godfathers and godmothers to have reposting or leave unceremoniously to take up appointments with private schools...Steps being taken to rationalise the distribution of teachers need to be encouraged. (Nti, 1996, p. 18)
This view finds an echo among many head teachers:
Those who stay for longer periods in the rural areas are the older teachers. The new teachers are sent to an area for one year. They will say because of the village environment their health is suffering so they will go to the hospital and get a medical form to be transferred to the urban centres. I remember about four years ago, they did the postings in Accra. Somebody was sent from Accra to A. [a rural village]. They say the father was a big name in Accra so they packed all the belongings, they come down and when they saw the place, they didn't even step down from the car...they said "Is there light?" "No" "Is there piped water?" "No", and then they drove away. It's a true story. The head of that school told me. [Head teacher in an urban primary school]
The next two quotations from teachers who worked at the same remote school for one year reveal the depth of the problems caused by bureaucracies perceived to be open to influence and not to act in a fair way. The first quotation is from a teacher who managed to arrange a transfer after one year even though the minimum time that teachers are supposed to stay in post is three years:
I also got a transfer [after one year from a remote school] because I wanted further education and being there I was cut off from this so I wanted to be by the roadside and have access. I was sick as well, I was seriously sick. There were problems with the water supply and I had to make appeals to my landlord. We were taking drinking water from the rocks as the bore-hole was spoiled. [Were bribes involved?] I wrote a letter that was forwarded to the office and I told my uncle and he went to the office and the transactions that went on I cannot tell. [Male teacher who transferred from a rural primary to an urban JSS after one year]
In contrast, one of his fellow teachers is left at the school and his perception of unfair treatment at the hands of the education systems seems to have caused great resentment and undermined his commitment to the job:
I wanted to transfer because of problems of being sick, having to walk, but they refused to give it to me because there aren't many teachers here, but others have pushed through by giving them money and other things and they just allow them to leave. [Assistant Head teacher at a rural primary school]
GES says women teachers are not to be posted to rural areas. In practice some are, leading those who are to see themselves as having been treated unfairly and seek early transfers. Yet, women make up a significant percentage of the graduates from training. This highlights a conflict between an emphasis on the education of girls in rural areas in education policy, very real problems facing women posted to rural areas, and what rural schools need and what training colleges produce. Many in the education system perceive a need for more female role models in rural areas, and many male teachers in this study said they resented the practice of posting women to urban or semi urban areas. Women teachers who accept postings to rural schools rarely seem to stay long and, according to district officers, often refuse the posting in the first place. Thus, the practice recognises a Ghanaian reality (fears of parents that their daughters may lose their marriage market or be put in vulnerable positions) which is apparently not acknowledged in recruitment for training colleges.
The picture that emerges from the perceptions of teachers interviewed for this study is of a bureaucratic system that does not operate fairly, benefiting some who have influence (and some facing genuine hardship) while creating resentment among those who actually accept their posting and stay at it. Thus, a culture of manipulation exists alongside a culture of resentment and it is hardly surprising that there is ambivalence towards GES among teachers and heads despite the fact that it is staffed by ex-teachers. In fact, it would not be overstating the case to say that among some teachers it faces a serious crisis of legitimacy, epitomised by the strike over delayed allowances and salaries, which took place in 2000. This becomes even clearer if one considers two other aspects of bureaucratic socialisation, which have a huge impact on newly trained teachers' lives and their attitudes to teaching as a career. The first is the lack of enforcement of the bond (hinted at already), which is supposed to ensure teachers, who have received three years bed and board during training, spend three years service in the school they are posted to. The second is the late payment of salaries.
Theoretically, if a newly trained teacher does not accept a posting, an embargo should be put on their salary and they should not be re-employed by the state system, but in practice the system has not been enforced for several years. This leads to widespread cynicism and a sense of powerlessness about the system at all levels as is reflected in the following comment from a District Director:
According to the regulations we are working on now, when the new teacher has been posted to a district, he is bound to be there for 4 years. Sometimes he does not report at all. But he goes to another district and he gets away with it. A teacher posted to my district is now teaching at W. [an urban district] and for the time being he is working there and I'm sure he will get everything normalised. [Interview with a District Director in Central Region]
Traditionally in Ghana, to ensure that teachers who had been trained served for a minimum period of years wherever they were posted, they were given a bond to sign. That bond, when it was first introduced, was a significant amount of money and therefore carried a considerable sanction, but over time, particularly due to inflation, the amount became negligible:
...a few years ago it was as low as 24000 Cedis7, which was less than two months of a teacher's salary at the time and teachers weren't afraid to sign a bond. [Interview with a District Director in Central Region]
7 £1 = 4000 cedis at that date.
Then, four years ago, due to the under-supply of teachers, a decision was taken to abolish the bonds that in hindsight seems deeply problematic, given the mixed messages it sends; you must obey the rule, but it will not be enforced:
For the past 4 years, bonds have not been in the system, but colleges were duplicating old ones and giving them to trainees even though they know it isn't real. Enforcement is the problem. If the district doesn't report, you wouldn't know so it's up to the district directors to report to Manpower. [Interview with a National Officer of Teacher Education Division, GES]
The perception from the central administration of GES, as is revealed in the quotation above, seems to be that the problem lies with the districts; this is a raw nerve given that Ghana is currently, theoretically at least, working towards the process of decentralising education administration. As one would expect, the perception at the district level is quite different:
We send the report about them breaking the bond and nothing is done. Maybe he's a son or relative of government officials and the government is not even-handed. [Interview with a Circuit Supervisor in Central Region]
Mankoe and Maynes (1994) studied the potential for the policy of decentralisation in Ghana to be successful and in their survey results, they highlighted the low "actual" control that schools, communities and districts have over posting, with the high "preferred" control. This would seem to offer a way forward given the apparent failure of the centralised system to develop an effective and fair system. Recently, there have been discussions and projected policy changes, envisaging a system of sponsorship whereby individuals considering training would have to seek "sponsorship" from the district assembly where they would later teach. However, this policy, due to be implemented in 1999 has been shelved until 2000 or later.
Alongside the lack of enforcement of the bond, another feature of the GES is undermining the stated policy aim of filling vacancies in rural schools with newly trained teachers: the late payment of salaries to new teachers. This is something that had affected all my participants, with delays ranging from 2 to 9 months and it is a practice, which seems to hit teachers in the rural areas hardest, as they are often furthest from their families who might be able to help them financially. The following extract is taken from an editorial in the Daily Graphic:
Some reports from the Eastern Region suggest that some newly trained teachers posted to the region since September last year have not received any salary so far. What is more disturbing is the fact that whilst the regional directorate of GES appears not to be aware of the problem, that fact of the non payment of salaries to newly trained teachers posted to some parts of the region is a common knowledge at some of the educational units. The GES has to put its house in order. The human factor is essential in the provision of quality education, which is the focus of the education reforms. But at the time the GES is making appeals to teachers to accept postings to rural areas, because of large scale refusal by some to take up appointment in certain areas, those who have taken up the challenge are subject to frustration... [Editorial in The Daily Graphic, 22/4/99, p.7]
This issue remains one of the chief complaints of NQTs against GES and was one of the factors leading to a national strike in 2000. It has received a lot of attention in recent years in the national press, with the Daily Graphic, a government paper, calling it 'the unsavoury ritual', and much discussion within GES about how to improve the situation.
A final example of socialisation by the bureaucracy is the supervision system. Circuit Supervisors are the main point of communication between the school and the District Office and one of their responsibilities is to support and guide newly trained teachers by a process of regular supervision. Some Circuit Supervisors are praised for the support they give, but many are not and this quotation gives an insight into the way that an emphasis on bureaucratic procedure (the checking of lesson notes, rather than observing teachers) can undermine good teaching and professional attitudes:
...it is somehow due to how the Circuit Supervisors have been supervising the system, in that sometimes we, in the rural areas, we have problems with the lights [...] so in this case, me for example, if I know that I'm not able to prepare my lesson notes, I'd rather read whatever I'm going to teach to get it started so I may be late in preparing my lesson notes, but when they come they collar you that you have to do your lesson notes whether you would have taught that or not. So sometimes some will take advantage of that, they will prepare lesson notes, but they will not intend to teach, prepare maybe in advance. Someone is in our staff, he will prepare sometimes [...] and he has a big bundle of notes and he just transfers the notes. So in this case this person always has the access to [old] lesson notes and he just transfers, but being a new teacher where am I going to get it? [...] So in this way the supervisors are stressing on the lesson notes, the teachers will take advantage, prepare lesson notes and not teach, and go away. [Male teacher in a rural primary school]
These quotations reveal a bureaucracy perceived to be in crisis, open to influence, unwilling to discipline, unable to pay on time, and carrying out practices that undermine professionalism; an open door waiting to be pushed by teachers driven to "deviance". The picture, however, is not entirely bleak and there are a number of positive signs of change. Perhaps the most interesting example of this is Ajumako district in Central Region. It is the 24th most deprived district in the country and for a long time has had a problem attracting and keeping teachers as most of its schools would be classified as rural and many are remote. Yet, Ajumako gives the strong impression of district-inspired progress and shows how the context can be changed without increased resources, but with a more proactive management culture.
Firstly, it provides a popular orientation programme for all newly posted and newly transferred teachers in the first term, which, among other things, introduces key District Officers and explains their roles to new teachers. Some other districts provide orientation, though in 1998 this provision was patchy in Central Region, and two other rural districts with problems in the retention of new staff, claimed financial restrictions had prevented them from doing so. Ajumako has also developed an "adopt a school" programme, which gives all members of the district office three schools that they should be in regular contact with to try and ensure that the district office is more responsive to school-level needs and problems. On entering the Director's office, one is immediately confronted by a detailed chart on the wall with pins for each vacancy in each school, giving a very clear public profile to the problems faced in the district, but also showing the up-to-date quality of information available in the office. The acting director is also very aware of what a strong disincentive the lack of further education opportunities in the rural areas is for newly posted teachers and he is in discussions with the Dean of the Faculty of Education at Cape Coast University in order to develop an outreach programme.
One of the strengths of the Ajumako approach is that it builds on the positive potential in the system and shows the potential for organisational renewal. It is worth restating that within the Ghana education system, with its negative socialisation process, the majority of teachers do still report to what are often very difficult postings, something that is discussed in greater detail in the next section. Similarly, the lack of support from and poor communication with some GES District and Regional Offices and National HQ, often put down to resource constraints, can be seen in a new light next to the example of Ajumako.