Worlds of Education

Credits: John Savage (Flickr)
Credits: John Savage (Flickr)

#WDR2018 Reality Check #8: "Unions do contribute to quality education. An example from the Gambia", by Marie Antoinette Corr

published 19 December 2017 updated 12 April 2018
written by:

The World Development Report 2018 recognises, although briefly, that poor working conditions for teachers can undermine learning (p.138). It argues that the status of the teaching profession has declined over the last few decades, and that as a result, “teachers deserve more from the systems that employ them” (p.138).

It points out that that teachers are challenged as professionals by multiple factors such as oversized multi-grade classes; large workloads; long working hours; the necessity of additional duties outside of the classroom; a lack of school infrastructure and equipment; long distances to travel to work; and the need to engage in additional work to earn enough to support themselves.

However, in contradiction, the report also argues that a concern for teachers’ job security is misaligned with a focus on learning. Teachers and education professionals are portrayed as self-interested when they “fight to maintain secure employment and to protect their incomes” (p.13). Teacher unions, as the organizations that support teachers on such matters, are criticized, and it is suggested that on the whole unions have a negative influence on learning (p.191).

In the Gambia, the work of the national teachers’ union shows why the WDR is mistaken both in its depiction of unions and in positing working conditions and learning as competing interests. The Gambia Teachers Union (GTU) supports teachers by helping them to respond to some of the challenges of poor working conditions. In particular, two projects have greatly improved the working conditions of teachers: the provision of motor bikes to teachers, and the payment of teachers’ salaries by the union.

First, the GTU has provided teachers with motorbikes through loans. By enabling teacher mobility, this project has helped to improve education. As teachers are able to easily and safely travel to school, the project has improved teacher punctuality and reduced teacher absenteeism. Multiple other benefits can be seen, particularly in rural areas. Having a reliable means of transport with which to travel to work and to use to buy essentials from far away markets means that teachers are more likely to accept postings in rural areas. The bikes are then used by these teachers asambulances during school sessions, to transport sick pupils and colleagues to hospital which may be miles away. They also facilitate movement of teachers during school enrolment periods, when they travel to homes to sensitize parents on the need for education and help increase enrolment numbers.

Teachers are better off with the provision of motorbikes

The second project tackles the government’s difficulty in paying rural teachers without losing instructional time. To avoid teachers having to travel to banks (sometimes days away) to be paid, salaries are instead paid through the Gambia Teachers’ Union Cooperative Credit Union (the GTUCCU – a branch of the GTU). This has had numerous benefits for quality education. Enhanced efficiency in the payment process reveals ghost teachers and allows the government to save money and use the savings to recruit more teachers. The project reduces teacher absenteeism drastically, as teachers do not have to leave their schools to go to faraway banks. It also ensures that all teachers are paid on time as the union can pre-finance salaries when the government is late in processing them. The perception of the GTU by government changed when they saw GTU helping them achieve their goals; they now view the GTU as a partner.

The Gambia Teachers’ Union Cooperative Credit Union (GTUCCU)

A teacher in a primary school extolled the GTUCCU for contributing to the enhancement of their welfare and improving their working conditions in multiple ways. “Teachers are far better now than before,” he said.  “The GTUCCU has intervened in many areas of development to upgrade teachers’ livelihoods. They protect teachers in terms of job security, professional development, provide access to credit facilities, like loans, assets like motorbikes and are now planning to come up with housing schemes to prevent them from being homeless after their retirement”.

In hard-to-reach communities, imagine the life of the average child in the presence of a teacher who is now comfortably housed in a solar powered apartment as compared to the teacher who could only settle for a store in the community as his most comfortable means of accommodation. Ponder the life of a parent in a remote village whose child’s teacher can use a motor bike instead of a donkey or horse cart as the means of emergency transportation. The status of the average teacher is much better now than it used to be and this has a positive impact on the lives of both students and parents.

The things that teachers need to do their job will also help children learn and grow, for instance, smaller class sizes, a robust curriculum, adequate resources, collaboration among teachers. Ms. Isatou Ndow, the Vice Principal and Head of the School of Education at Gambia College was right when she said “Teachers deserve immeasurable gratitude.  Without teachers we would all be floating in the wilderness of ignorance and prejudice, shut out from the wealth of the wisdom, shut out from the rich conversation of the educated and the enlightened".

Rather than seeking to understand how teacher quality can be improved through performance based incentives and punishments (WDR, p. 22), we should instead consider: why do teachers do what they do? What challenges do they face? How can we reduce these challenges and support them to provide quality education? This would enable their views to be taken into account, and will also encourage studies and strategies that respect their motivation to help children learn, but are responsive to their complex practical circumstances.

#WDR2018 Reality Check is a blog series organized by Education International.  The series brings together the voices of education experts and activists – researchers, teachers, unionists and civil society actors - from across the world in response to the 2018 World Development Report, Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. The series will form the basis of a publication in advance of the WB Spring Meetings 2018. If you would like to contribute to the series, please get in touch with Jennifer at [email protected]. All views expressed are those of the authors alone and do not represent the views of Education International.

Check out the previous post in the series by Nelly P. Stromquist: #WDR2018 Reality Check #7: The Gender Dimension in the World Bank’s Perception

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.