Monday, May 15, 2017

FROM THE PUBLIC EDITOR'S DESK : Curb teacher absenteeism to save education

Ndimara Tegambwage is Public Editor with

Ndimara Tegambwage is Public Editor with Mwananchi Communications Limited. 

By Ndimara Tegambwage

Look at this. Teachers are providers of service. School owners, including the government, are the clients. Here then is a situation taken care of by the maxim: “Pay for services rendered.”

The eye of an ordinary onlooker would see children, take this as a primary school: going to school every day; dressed to the smartness of the order. It would see teachers around the school and inside classrooms.

Here days come and go. Here is the usualness of activities: arrivals, wiping up and down; moping; getting to class, going out for break and physical exercise; getting back to class and finally calling it a day—turning arrivals into departures.

Then the individual psyche would conclude: “Here is real business!” Service has been rendered to those who needed it and paid for it. Skills have been transferred from teachers to pupils.

What more would you expect? Knowledge has been shared; base for proficiency has been built; and confidence among pupils has been cemented.

It is here punters would node to signal satisfaction and pay the teachers; and possibly award some of them for something “extra” they have exhibited.

But this is all smashingly rosy. An investigating eye would see more than what is said above. For example, it would see some teachers coming to school when the sun is already up—almost at the same level with the highest building at school.

It would see teachers who come with baskets full of buns, doughnuts and fruits; all for sale to children, teachers and campus workers.

An added eye would see teachers who spend only 20 or 30 minutes in class and spend most of the time going around sell their “products,” or at worse, discussing victories and failures of football clubs in the ongoing fixtures.

A disinterested eye would see a teacher who does not come to school for three consecutive days in a week; or for the whole week. That investigating eye would also see teachers who do not complete programmes and syllabuses, simply because they are frequently unavailable at school.

In this order, you could have absent teachers; teachers at school but out of class, teachers in class (teaching); teachers in class but going around selling buns; or teachers in class but snoring from last night’s fatigue.

Now imagine the dictum: “payment for services rendered!” Where are the services?

In its pamphlet of May 2017, Twaweza—a non-governmental organisation working in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, has published shocking results of an investigation into “paying teachers their full monthly salaries for contracted services that are only half delivered.”

The data are for public primary schools in the years 2015 and 2016 and for Standards 1 to 3. They stem from a teacher attendance review titled: “Where is my teacher?”

According to the investigation, there was 46 per cent absenteeism in 2016. Given that a Standard 1 to 3 teacher costs on average Sh 9 million per year; and given that there were 191,604 teachers in public primary schools in Tanzania; the total wage bill is conservatively estimated at Shs1,724 billion per year.

Then, Twaweza calculates: “Using 46% classroom absence rate for 2016 across all grades, we estimate that taxpayers are losing Sh793 billion annually for teaching services contracted but not delivered (or Shs4.1 million per teacher.”

Here is a scandal bigger than the IPTL Escrow scandal of Sh306 billion. In fact, more than twice the Escrow scandal; and we still live with it under the same roof.

Move a few steps from schools; to your company. Look around and see how absenteeism at work could wreck the entire national economy.

Investigation into the menace of absenteeism, as has been done by Twaweza – but this time done by a piercing and added eye of an investigative journalist—could expose malingering, call for early action and save many firms from collapse. Investigation could save the nation.