Vague start to school year

With the education ministry under severe financial pressure, many teachers do not know if they are still employed, and those with jobs do not know where they will work this year.

04 January 2018 | Education

The education ministry plans to cut its massive wage bill in a bid to invest in other educational needs and this will mean the reshuffling of teachers and fewer new appointments.

The Teachers Union of Namibia (TUN) has advised teachers facing transfers to new schools to insist on having at least four criteria met.

TUN secretary-general Mahongora Kavihuha told Namibian Sun this week that he had not heard of any complaints by teachers about transfers. However, TUN has issued a directive to teachers that should they be reshuffled they must take into consideration at least four guidelines before they are transferred to a post “they did not apply for”.

These include the issues of accommodation and transport, taking up a position they are qualified for, and ensuring that their transfer is not based on meeting teacher to pupil ratios, but rather the curriculum taught at the schools.

“All these elements should first be met before anyone is relocated. And we have instructed our members they should not just agree to a relocation without these criteria being met,” Kavihuha said.

Speaking to Nampa recently, education permanent secretary Sanet Steenkamp said the ministry was faced with an avalanche of challenges which included a high wage bill, over-staffing, the late disbursement of funds and a meagre budget allocation.

Steenkamp explained that one of the strategies to address the high wage bill and reduce costs was “to employ compensatory reduction strategies. That means if I have 17 positions and they are all vacant, I have to check which of the 17 [the ministry] really needs [as a top priority] and fill maybe six of them”.

In line with this, the teacher vacancy list was delayed last year to allow the ministry to do an in-depth analysis of overstaffed versus understaffed schools, Steenkamp said.

“This process allowed us to see if we cannot transfer teachers within their field of specialisation from an overstaffed school to an understaffed school. Those are the things that we have done to curb the wage bill,” Steenkamp added.

TUN's Kavihuha said it is critical that teachers who are transferred to a new school are qualified for these posts.

Another consideration is that teacher posts are not based on the recommended student and teacher ratios.

“Those transfers should not be based on the number of learners versus teachers, but on the curriculum. The teacher-learner ratio does not support quality, only quantity.”

Instead, teacher posts should be calculated on the basis of ensuring qualified teachers are put in place who have the necessary qualifications and skills to teach the school's curriculum.

In terms of teacher vacancies and whether all positions will be filled as advertised, Kavihuha said the union had “serious concerns around that issue”.

He explained that he has received numerous messages from student teachers that completed their qualifications in 2017, and who applied for teaching positions but have not yet been notified whether they were successful.

“We are not sure whether that is because the positions have been frozen for now, or whether some regions are not efficient in terms of fast-tracking the recruitment process. But schools start next week and we will see then.”

Earlier this year the ministry was faced with deep budget cuts, down from N$12.32 billion in 2016/2017 to N$11.97 billion in the 2017/18 financial year.

Of that, 85% of the total budget was allocated towards staff costs, including basic remuneration, contributions to the pension fund and other service related expenses.

With only 15% set aside for the ministry's operation costs, the ministry has had to take careful stock and prioritise expenditures.

This, however, has made the ministry unpopular in the public eye according to Steenkamp.

“We have become very unpopular because posts that were vacant were not filled because we had to choose which post do we see as most critical and which is not,” she said.

Steenkamp stressed that prioritisation of the ministry's needs will be key in 2018.

– Additional reporting by Nampa


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