Ten years ago, on August 28, 2013, I was privileged to be the keynote speaker on the theme, “It all starts with a good teacher”, at the 10th National Conference of the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) at the Akromah Plaza in Takoradi.
In my speech, I acknowledged the place of the teacher in the total development of individuals and societies.
I trumpeted the pivotal role of the teacher from the perspectives of two dominant religions in Ghana: Christianity and Islam.
In Christianity, the teacher is believed to have a Divine mandate of continuing with the creation agenda of God.
Teaching began with creation when God issued out instructions to the first human beings created in the Garden of Eden regarding the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16-17).
When God gave the law to Moses, He ordered him to let the Israelites teach posterity and bind them on the tablet of their hearts.
Jesus Christ is seen as a teacher who taught throughout his ministry.
Solomon, who is believed to be the wisest person who ever lived in the world, called himself the teacher.
From the perspective of Islam, I referred to Muhammad Baqir Qarash, a renowned writer on the status of teachers who in 1998 observed that Islam acknowledges the teacher as “the first brick in the structure of social development,perfection, in guiding and developing behaviours and mentalities of individuals and communities.”
Qarash further remarked, “Teachers are exemplars: Pupils acquire the good traits and sound trends, as well as the virtuous behaviour and composure from their teachers whose guidance and conducts penetrate to their hearts”.
Hence, a Caliph often instructs a teacher appointed to teach his son as follows: “The reformation you will provide to my son should be a part of your self-reformation.
Flaws of pupils are totally related to yours.
They will deem good only what you deem good and deem evil only what you deem evil”.
Indeed, teachers play a central role in developing the talents, skills and attitudes necessary for accelerating development.
No policy discourse on quality education can, therefore, be considered complete without reference to the teacher.
Increasingly, the teacher’s role has become multifaceted in that he or she is expected to fulfill the role of a counselor, a mentor, a surrogate parent, a nutritionist, a spiritual guide and a magician, who should be able to squeeze water from a stone even when he/she has no access to a stone.
Because it all starts with the teacher, who has to grapple with increasing complex public expectations to the extent that failures in home and community responsibilities, failures of politicians in children’s socialisation, inefficiencies in sex education, littering in our environment and many others have all become a liability on teachers’ functions.
It is perhaps in response to these complex multifaceted roles that we uphold maxims such as, ‘if you can read this, thank a teacher’; ‘the teacher – backbone of national development’.
Certainly, nobody will disagree that the teacher is the backbone of national development.
Yet, are we justified to be singling the teacher for blame when we identify flaws in our educational delivery systems? I acknowledge that a teacher’s commitment to his/her primary function of teaching or learning facilitation can enhance the image of the institution in which he/she operates and thereby give that institution an enrolment-indexed competitive advantage over others.
Yet, I do not find it fair for anyone one to put the blame of low gross enrolment ratio and its associated economic woes on the teacher.
The teacher is never the direct cause of the low tertiary enrolment ratio in Ghana.
In matters of quality education, I agree to a large extent that it all starts with the teacher.
However, the teacher’s effectiveness depends on the creation of enabling, non-threatening and supportive work environment.
Teachers need support to enable them uphold good teaching orientations.
We need to acknowledge that no matter the effectiveness of a teacher, little achievement can be recorded if the requisite teaching, learning materials, laboratory equipment and professional support are absent or non-available in the educational system.
I urge the government and policymakers to rethink the factors that contribute to low tertiary enrolment ratio values in our country.
The teacher is never the direct cause of the causes of low gross tertiary enrolment ratio which is adversely affecting the economy of our country.
Let us focus on the broader factors that threaten our efforts towards increasing our gross enrolment ratio.
Isolating the teacher for blame is not the solution.
The writer is a Professor of Educational Leadership.