On an average weekday morning as I walk from my house in Osu to the office in Labone, I cross paths with school children who bustle from shops to breakfast food stands to buy food for their day at school. This week, however, the streets were silent, and as I stood in line for my morning kosi, I wondered, “Where have all the school children gone?”
On Monday, March 18th the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) and the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NGRAT) declared a universal strike until their demands for payment of back wages and promotions were met. Since GNAT and NGRAT are the two largest organizations of teachers working in public schools in Ghana, their strike signaled the end to classes for all students who attend public primary and secondary schools in the country. Reading about this strike in the Daily Graphic newspaper, I realized the answer to my question. All the school children were at home.
While teacher strikes are disruptive to the learning process in Ghana, unfortunately they have become a regular part of the Ghanaian Education System. For example, last year while completing my Master’s degree at the University of Ghana, I witnessed two strikes firsthand. First, the university workers (everyone EXCEPT for the teaching staff) went on strike to protest the payment of their salaries. Though I agreed with the grievances of the striking staff, it was hard for me to maintain this sympathy as I struggled to access books from the library and register for classes. Two weeks later, the university workers called off their strike and my access to university libraries began again. Shortly after this strike ended, the university professors’ union went on strike. Some of my professors, in agreement with the union, canceled our classes while other professors decided to hold group “meetings” in their office in place of class.
After experiencing the first of these strikes, I was confused at how a nation’s premier institution of learning could function and produce scholarship with the cloud of strikes constantly looming over campus life. Yet, I have learned from my time in Ghana that strikes from all sectors are a part of life in Ghana. Though everyone laments them, they continue to happen over and over again.
In the wake of this past week’s strike, I wondered how yearly strikes impede development in Ghana, specifically achieving UNESCO’s goals of Education for All (EFA) by 2015. The EFA Global Monitoring Report of 2012 lists six goals: expand early childhood care and education, achieve universal primary education, promote learning and life skills for young people and adults, reduce adult illiteracy by 50%, achieve gender parity and equality, and improve the quality of education (pp.1-7). For Ghana, these 6 goals have not yet been attained. For example, this same report claims that “over half of women and one-third of men aged 15 to 29 who had completed six years of school could not read a sentence at all in 2008” (p. 6). Thus, education has be to at the front of the development agenda if Ghana wants to meet the goals of Education for All.
As this week’s strike has shown, no matter how much donor money is spent on teacher training and improving the quality of education in Ghana, if teachers are on strike, children are not learning. There are so many governmental actors, such as the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission, the Ghana Education Service, and even the office of the President that have all promised the Ghanaian people to create better environments for teachers to lower the need for striking. However, year after year, another teaching group goes on strike, and students ranging from primary to university level are given vacation time in place of instructional time.
While classes have resumed again, the memory of the recent strike still lingers for public school students in Ghana. If Ghana wants to meet the goals of Education for All by 2015, the government and teaching unions must come to a consensus to create consistent learning environments for all students.