By Maryse QUASHIE
For a few days we have been in the midst of a controversy about the difficulties in the education sector, in particular the demands made by teachers and the sanctions imposed on some of them. In this context we mention the right to education, the right to organize, the limits of the right to strike, etc.
But have we considered all aspects of the issue, and more specifically, is it essentially a legal issue? First of all, one remark is essential: we can defend everything with the law because it is subject to interpretation. Our question is based on this: Should we see the law as the only way to solve a problem, in this case education?
It seemed essential to me to question myself publicly on this subject, introducing myself to an audience of educational actors: learners and teachers, public and private administrators, but also parents of students, and therefore practically all citizens.
FIRST QUESTION: HOW DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION?
When we say that children’s right to education must be respected, it means that nothing should be done or said that interferes with education, such as preventing children and young people from going to school. But is the fact that the students are in class on the days and times prescribed by the Schools Act sufficient for a claim to have protected the right of these students to an education? In fact, UNESCO believes that education is a lifelong human right for all, but that access to education goes hand in hand with quality. UNESCO is the only United Nations body concerned with education in all its aspects and as such has been given the mandate to lead the 2030 World Education Agenda, particularly through Sustainable Development Goal 4 which requires it vensure that quality education is available to all on equal terms and promote lifelong learning opportunities.
Quality education is therefore the real problem of development, the core of the question of the right to education.
SECOND QUESTION: CAN WE ENSURE A QUALITY EDUCATION FOR THE STUDENTS WITHOUT THINK OF THE TEACHERS?
It is a well-known fact that the better the working and professional conditions for teachers, the better the learning conditions for students. Consequently, every measure, every action in favor of a better life for teachers is consistent with the quality of education.. At the same time, it becomes a duty to reaffirm that any struggle for long-term better living and working conditions for teachers is consistent with the right to quality education for learners.
THIRD QUESTION: ARE ALL MEANS OF UNION STRUGGLE ACCEPTABLE FOR TEACHERS’ CONDITIONS? ?
This leads us to wonder about the union struggle. It is undeniable that rules govern this aspect of the citizen’s life. Therefore, any trade union, like any group of citizens (associations, movements, NGOs, etc.), must rely on these legal norms to avoid being paralyzed by procedural issues. But citizens need to go beyond the knowledge of legal norms and take current practices into account. In Togo, for example, it is good to be aware of all the requirements for club recognition, but also that administratively recognition takes a relatively long time once you have registered your file.
Back to the teachers: there must be a procedure followed for any union action, including a notice period. However, do these rules apply in every context? If workers have waited more than ten years for the employer to consider their demands, isn’t that employer in a position to be taken to task when he praises the rule of working days as indispensable notice before the start of a strike movement? The law gives him the opportunity, but morality? As applicable law does not state that you are morally virtuous.
FOURTH QUESTION: IS UNDIVERSITY IN ITSELF AN EVIL?
The current controversy concerns a new teachers’ union, the umpteenth.
This prompts us to ask ourselves about union life in Togo: How can grassroots union activists see demands failing for so many years while teachers continue to suffer? They will certainly understand that the employer is somehow ‘tough’, but couldn’t they also question the adequacy and effectiveness of the strategies chosen by their representatives, both at the rank and file level? And wouldn’t the observer of social life in Togo during the last decade understand that the bases are losing confidence in their representatives to the point that they want to form other unions? Could this loss of trust be the reason for union diversity?
FIFTH QUESTION: HOW TO ASSESS GOVERNMENT MEASURES?
Teacher hiring and classroom construction are announced. It’s good. Who could complain about that?
But in order for citizens to properly appreciate this action, it should be indicated how many teachers and rooms would be needed for our system to approach UNESCO standards. In any case, teacher shortages are known to have a negative impact on student performance, with overcrowded classes rarely leading to good results. However, the level of qualifications of teachers also has an impact on the quality of the teaching they provide. So if we have neglected to train teachers for decades, hiring staff with little or no education and varying status, are we still promoting children’s right to a quality education?
And more than that, we know that” With regard to the advancement of the teaching profession, the practices of hiring “voluntary, voluntary or contract teachers or community teachers” etc. are contrary to the principles set out in Articles 11 to 14 of the Joint ILO/UNESCO 1966 Recommendation on the status of teachers. (OUEDRAOGO R. Mathieu, Strategies to improve teachers’ working conditions and retention in schools in AfricaUNESCO, 2011).
This fifth question remains unanswered in that it is difficult to quantify the proportion of different staff categories (civil servants, contract workers, volunteers, etc.) in our system of official school statistics. This introduces our final question.
SIXTH QUESTION: WHAT DO WE OWE TO PRIVATE EDUCATION?
Since the colonial era for denominational private tuition and since the 1990s for secular private tuition, private tuition has always been of great importance in the school system. However, in recent years it has been difficult to rely on official school statistics to calculate the private sector’s share of the care of Togolese children and young people.
Regardless of the numbers, however, parents of students know that they rely heavily on private education as an alternative to public education. Private education generally develops under the control of the public, but not under its direct administration.. For this reason it is unacceptable that striking public teachers try to force private teachers to participate in their strikes. It is up to private tutors alone to strike or not according to their interests.
But how can we make public teachers understand this when, for example (and here we give just one example) the public authorities want to go beyond their powers and decide whether or not teachers and private institutions organize summer courses, support, etc.? At the limit they were able to check the conditions under which these courses take place, but to ban them would be as if the management and teachers of private schools were directly employed by the public administration.
There would be many other questions to ask to invite citizens to consider the whole issue of teaching conditions. In fact, citizens should take the time to meet to deal together on the issue of education, especially with regard to the profile of the citizen to be trained.. From this we can deduce what we entrust to the school and therefore to the teachers, and within this framework their rights and duties fall. This consultation is essential and all the more important given that for several decades we have observed a certain precariousness in the teaching profession, to the point where it no longer attracts young people. Is that desirable in a country where more than a quarter of the population is between 5 and 20 years old?
Lome, April 10, 2022