The politics of teacher attrition: Threat or blessing?
The revelation by the Registrar of the National Teaching Council that 10, 00 professionally trained Ghanaian teachers have left the shores of the country to the United Kingdom this year alone is disturbing, to say the least. The professionals are leaving to search for greener pastures.
That this high rate of attrition poses a threat to the future of Ghana’s education sector must not be taken lightly. Certainly, thousands of other teachers are either on their way out or have nursed similar plans. How this story escaped most of the headlines is a ‘mystery’.
Similarly, the Ghana Registered Nurses and Midwives Association (GRNMA) earlier disclosed that between January and July 2023, 4,000 nurses had left Ghana for Europe alone. The GRNMA attributed the migration of health workers to the failure of successive governments to improve the conditions of the professionals.
These are just the tip of the iceberg as we have little or no idea of those who have either left for other continents and those at various stages of preparations to leave.
In a country where professionals are leaving in droves, the wrong signal is sent out on the seriousness attached to its human capital.
An idea of the processes these professionals go through before they leave would convince the most doubting Thomas that these professionals are very intelligent and smart young people whose expertise are needed here in Ghana to uplift their respective sectors.
The last officialdom response to the increasing attrition rate of nurses created the impression that Ghana had trained more nurses who are currently unemployed, hence ‘we should rejoice when they leave’. This less reasoned view may as well apply to the teachers.
However, apart from the low teacher-to-student ratio/nurse-to-patent ratio, this view makes nonsense of experience and institutional knowledge. Besides, it is demotivating to others as they see the economic outturn of their colleagues who have left.
Another issue we may have overlooked lies in the advice to the ruling New Patriot Party (NPP) by Mr Boakye Agyarko when former Trade and Industry Minister, Mr John Alan Kyerematen resigned to form the Movement for Change. He suggested that there are many more who share his feelings and who may only resign in the form of either not voting, spoiling the votes or voting against the party.
Similarly, there may be thousands of teachers, nurses, doctors and other dissatisfied professionals who may not leave the country but will not work as expected. Are our intelligent agencies aware that many professionals have to pay huge sums of money before they get a job? What do we expect of such? Where is meritocracy? These could be more disastrous than leaving.
Over the years, the topmost attributable reason given for the exodus of professionals has been the inability to improve the conditions of service of workers. Today, it is more biting than ever as the high cost of living in Ghana is no longer a joke. To work as a professional teacher or nurse and struggle to feed and educate a family of three in any of our major cities is sickening. Experts say this may be a major contributory factor for stress and its attendant high blood pressure, especially in a country where external family pressure is a reality.
The state of the Ghanaian economy is such that no government can meet the demands of workers. I believe workers are intelligent enough to understand this reality. They are also intelligent enough to understand priority. If the membership of a political party is enough basis to earn more than a master's or in some instances a terminal degree, something must be wrong somewhere. We do not need a soothsayer to tell us that these attrition rates will reduce if the salary disparities in the country are addressed.
On paper, the state is doing everything humanly possible to improve our education and health sectors with the planned construction of more facilities and the training of more people. This should be good news.
But the truth is that our students now harbour the feeling that apart from the fact that one needs to pay his/her way out to get postings, the take-home salary means little to those who want to genuinely make an impact in their families and communities. In fact, many of the little ones believe you can either make it through politics, football, fraudulent games or leave the country. These are triggers of demotivation capable of discouraging younger ones from taking their studies seriously. Perhaps, teachers can best explain this.
Our quest to build a resilient economy and a consolidated democracy will be difficult if we continue to be dismissive and refuse to address some of these issues in a humane way.
The writer is a lecturer, Department of Political Science, University of Education, Winneba