After completing university with good grades, I had the chance to do the national service: a one-year mandatory service for Ghanaian students who graduate from accredited tertiary institutions which aims at tackling brain-drain and unemployment hence ensuring that various key sectors are adequately resourced. I did it at the Amansie Central District Assembly in the Ashanti Region, it is the office that represents the highest political and administrative authority in the District, providing guidance, giving direction to and supervising all other administrative authorities in the district: you can just imagine my joy. As service was gradually coming to an end, there were no signs that the Assembly would retain me. I had sent dozens of applications and CVs all over but there was no positive response. Fortunately for me, I was called by, first, an NGO offering me an eight-month contract with a monthly allowance of $400 and subjected to renewal for as long as the project runs or continues; and then, the Education Service, offering me employment with a salary of $250 per month. The question was which of the two would I settle for?
Lots of graduate workers in the education sector in this part of our world face this challenge of having to settle for their jobs because it was the “least bad” option.Unemployment has been and still is a major developmental issue and in Ghana the rates are quite high, especially among the youth who are the active sector of our population-. The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines youth unemployment as the share of the labour force between the ages of 15-24 without work but capable or available for and seeking employment. Youth unemployment in Ghana was 13.7% in 2018.
I would say my decision to join the education sector was largely influenced by how secured the job was, judging from the fact that I could not tell if the NGO’s offer would end or continue after the said eight months. Because the work of the educational worker cuts across all departments and is very critical to teaching and learning, hence they are not to be taken for granted. But this is unfortunately the story in this part of the globe - the educational worker is seen as a mere support staff and looked down upon. Several instances points to the fact that the government does not see value of the work of the educational worker hence they are constantly being denied better working conditions, and even some basic allowances, because their work is not seen to be or considered critical to teaching and learning.
My role as an Administrative Officer of St. Martins’ Senior High School requires me to attend to all mails and correspondents to the school, supervise non-teaching personnel and regularly review office procedures to increase efficiency. My schedule demands me to perform human resource duties as well. Our educational system focuses most on the teaching staff thereby neglecting the needs of the non-teaching staff. A vivid example is that about eight classes in our non-teaching category are denied some allowances aimed at motivating workers, which the teaching staff are given.
Again, the salary of an administrative officer in a school as compared to that of the same rank in a different non-educational institution is nothing to write home about. In fact, there is a wide disparity, which would deter any graduate from choosing to work as an educational worker his/her first choice. These challenges as well as others have been duly taken on by the union to see them addressed by the government.
This discrimination and marginalization; the zeal for change, the thirst to be heard and the push for justice for the educational worker informed my decision to be active in the union (Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union, TEWU). My love of the policies and practices of trade unions, particularly those concerned with protecting and furthering the rights of educational workers, led me to take the path of striving to foster better working conditions for our members and workers at large. Being a part of this great family (TEWU) always brings special feelings. The dedication to see workers in education get their due and better working conditions always gives us strength. The strength to forge on, the strength to press and push harder, the strength to see every member smile and happy – this is what keeps us going.
To conclude, the educational worker has come a very long way. They have been the backbone of all educational institutions yet the least appreciated. They are often not given the respect they deserve. In order to get this phenomenon rectified, there is the need for togetherness and teamwork. As the saying goes, ‘’in unity lies strength’’. Educational workers should all rally behind their union leaders; push ahead, if we want to be heard and the right things done for us.
The theme of World Teachers’ Day 2019 is “Young Teachers: The Future of the Profession.” To mark the occasion, we are launching a mini-series of blogs featuring the voices and experiences of young teachers and Education Support Personnel. This is an opportunity to hear directly from young education professionals and young unionists and discover their stories: what drew them to the profession, the challenges they face and their plans for the future.
If you are a young teacher or Education Support Personnel, or if you recently joined the profession, do not hesitate to contribute to the series and have your voice heard. Please get in touch with Sonia at [email protected].
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.