Teacher licences; A great idea

BY: Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
Dr Evelyn Owusu Oduro, Executive Secretary,  National Teaching Council
Dr Evelyn Owusu Oduro, Executive Secretary, National Teaching Council

When I left secondary school in 1987, I did one year’s national service before entering university.

In those days, national service was for two years.

But because of university students’ agitations, the universities had been closed down for some time, leading to an admissions backlog.

The one-year vacuum was, therefore, used for national service purposes.

I lived in Tarkwa with my parents and I was posted to a local primary school to teach.


I was in charge of Class Five and I loved every bit of my teaching experience.

The children called me ‘Sir’, which was quite nice and of course made me feel very important.

Of course I also wielded the cane and never failed to caress an errant student’s buttocks with it when he or she misbehaved.

Years later, when I was at university and came home on holiday, I would meet some of them in town and of course they would still affectionately greet me as ‘Sir’.

For some time now, however, I have been wondering whether it was actually wise for me to be given the heavy responsibility of teaching a whole class of primary school children when as a wet secondary school graduate, I had zero training in teaching methods and pedagogy.

Surely there is a reason people are put through three years of training to learn how to teach.

Why should I, or anyone, be made to short-circuit the whole process and be foisted on vulnerable little children?

Is that not an insult to the profession, a suggestion that really, one does not need to be trained to teach?

Was it not akin to having read Biology in secondary school and being asked to perform surgery on a patient after that? I can only pray I did not do any damage to those children 31 years ago.

Licence

I think teaching has been undervalued in this country for too long.

It cannot be right that anyone who has had some education can just pick up a piece of chalk, call himself a teacher and proceed to teach. It just does not seem right.

Children need the very best, qualified teachers to teach them because the foundation years of every child are most critical.

The running joke of a child in class during a discussion on future careers, that when he grows up he will ‘teach for a while before going to find a better job’ must relocate into the dustbin of history.

Teaching is not a stopgap or stepping stone, but a professional career that must, therefore, have clear standards.

And that is precisely what the Education Act (Act 778), passed in 2008, sought to do, among others, by establishing the National Teaching Council (NTC) to license teachers.

After many years of back and forth and endless rounds of consultations, including politicisation as we do with everything under the sun in this country, the NTC is springing into action by starting with a licensure examination for all fresh graduates of the Colleges of Education and holders of the Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) and the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) who seek to teach in our public schools.

According to the NTC, the examination is to enable candidates to acquire a professional licence and prepare them to meet the demands of the National Teaching Standards and Global Standards of possessing the minimum knowledge, skills, values and attitudes necessary to deliver effectively in schools.

It is, therefore, not a pure academic examination, but covers areas such as verbal aptitude, professional knowledge, professional values and attitudes, and basic computation.

The fee for the examination is GH¢220, which covers invigilators’ fees, police escort and security for examination centre, transport of papers, examiners’ fees and printing costs, among others.

This compares favourably with the GH¢450 that newly trained nurses had to pay this year for their licensure examination.

Qualified teachers in public schools who are already in practice will not be expected to write the examination, but will instead be issued provisional licences valid for four years.

During that period, they will be expected to undergo Continuous Professional Development (CPD) through seminars, in-service training and short courses, among others, in order to have their licences renewed.

Teachers who do not hold professional qualifications in education, such as graduate teachers in senior high schools, will not be issued provisional licences but will be expected to undertake the PGCE to upgrade themselves, following which they will write the licensure examination and then be issued with their professional licences.

I think the NTC is on the right path

A serious profession must have clear, high standards one must meet to qualify for entry and retention, with clear sanctions for breach, including suspension or even withdrawal of licence. A lawyer, doctor or a nurse who engages in professional misconduct risks having his or her licence withdrawn.

Why should the same not be for teachers? I think a teacher who has worked hard to secure his or her licence will not be in a hurry to lose it through misconduct, with the possible consequence of being booted out of the profession, and I am quite sure that a kitchen stool would lose its appeal as an innovative prop for illicit behaviour.

When a Sword of Damocles hangs over one’s head, one’s mind tends to focus and misconduct is not an attractive prospect.

Economics of licences

In an interesting article by Peter Partey Anti, an Education Economist, titled ‘The Economics of Teacher Licensing’, he argues that when fully operational, a teacher licencing regime will ultimately inure to the benefit of the teacher as far as his bargaining position in the labour market is concerned.

He believes that what he calls an ‘identity crisis’ of the teacher, arising out of the fact that there is no clear standard or definition of who a teacher is, can and will be resolved by a licensing regime, because a teacher who holds a licence is able to set himself apart from mere ‘pretenders’ to the profession, and urges teachers to embrace it because it is in their economic interest to do so.

I agree with Mr Anti

The days when a teacher commanded automatic respect in the community, where he invariably also served as the community letter writer, interpreter and catechist are long gone, in my view.

The profession must clean itself up and have high standards for entry and retention, just as is the case of lawyers, doctors, architects, surveyors, engineers and others. A licensing regime is, therefore, a positive step in this direction.

The teaching profession is not a rickety, dilapidated ‘trotro’ chugging along the baking streets, where passengers hop on and off at will and at convenience, and it must not be allowed to be.

If we accept that education is the ultimate game-changer, then we must necessarily accept that the crucial vehicle through which it is delivered, which is the teaching profession, must be cleaned up thoroughly by ensuring high standards.

And that is why I think it is in the interest of qualified teachers in particular to embrace the teacher licensing regime.