MASERU — They have groomed doctors, bankers, lawyers, judges and powerful politicians.
Yet teachers say theirs is a thankless job.
Despite working their socks off in the classroom, they still get very little recognition from the government, they say.
Two weeks ago teachers in Lesotho celebrated World Teachers’ Day.
The theme for the celebration was “Recovery begins with teachers”.
The day is celebrated worldwide on October 5 to recognise the vital role that teachers play in education and development.
The celebration came amid a depressed atmosphere for most teachers who say their grievances are not being addressed.
Although the government significantly raised their salaries two years ago, teachers generally remain a disgruntled lot.
The new salary structure saw teachers’ pay rise from a measly gross salary of M4 000 to an average M7 000 a month.
But teachers say the new pay structure does not recognise their years of experience.
The teachers allege that staff with the same qualifications are getting the same pay regardless of how long they have been in practice.
What this means is that a teacher who has just graduated from college is entitled to the same salary as one who graduated 15 years ago.
They say this arrangement is unfair and needs to be changed.
They also say teachers at primary and secondary schools should be remunerated differently due to the varying tasks they perform.
“Our concern is that the element of experience is not captured in this career structure,” Paul Sematlane, the chief executive secretary of the Progressive Association of Lesotho Teachers (PALT), told the Lesotho Times.
“It is an unfair labour practice to pay teachers without considering their years of experience. Teachers should be paid on the basis of their experience.”
PALT is an association that fights for improved conditions of service for teachers in Lesotho.
Teachers in Lesotho often complain about poor pay and working conditions.
Teachers say school classrooms are in a poor state.
They also complain about poor accommodation at rural schools.
They say they are sometimes forced to rent houses from nearby communities, most of which are far away from their schools.
Their safety is severely compromised, they say.
With all these concerns teachers say they want the government to hike the “hardship” allowance that it gives to teachers.
The allowance is an incentive given to qualified teachers to take up posts in difficult-to-reach districts of the country.
Teachers say the current M250 allowance is not enough. They want it hiked to M500 a month.
“There is a M250 hardship allowance for teachers who work in difficult-to-reach places. It should be increased to M500.
“The government should also introduce a M250 transport allowance for teachers working in these areas to encourage qualified teachers to take posts in such areas.
“We also want an accommodation allowance of M500,” Sematlane says.
He says schools in remote districts were currently facing a serious shortage of qualified teachers.
“The shortage of qualified teachers is because there is nothing to attract them to these districts.
“There is also the problem of poor communication network and as a result of these problems no one wants to go there after training,” Sematlane says.
He says the decision by the government to suspend study leave for teachers had left teachers feeling hard done by.
The move, according to the government, was meant to cut costs.
Sematlane says the new requirement will force teachers to resign if they want to further their studies.
“Many teachers want to further their studies now that they are paid according to their qualifications. It is good when they want to upgrade their certificates.
“But most of them fail to do that because they cannot get study leave. There is an urgent need for the government to reconsider that.”
The list of grievances goes on.
Sematlane says it takes as long as two years for newly recruited teachers to be put on the pay-roll.
Pensioners also have to endure long periods without accessing their money when they retire.
Sematlane says most of the blame for these delays is due to the fact the board members at most schools delay the paperwork for newly recruited teachers.
“School board members sit on applications before passing them on to the Teaching Service Commission for approval.
“Some board members are not passionate about their job. School board members should be of the right calibre,” Sematlane says.
He says teaching is a respected profession which should be given the respect it deserves.
It is not a hide-out for failures, Sematlane says.
“When you are a teacher you are a leader. The teaching profession is the mother of all professions,” he says.
The executive secretary of the Lesotho Teachers Association, Africa Makakane, agrees with Sematlane.
He says teachers are not being given the recognition they deserve.
“The welfare of teachers in Lesotho is taken for granted. Teachers do not get study leave when they want to further their studies.
“They are forced to resign. Yet one of the aims of the ministry of education is to have all primary and post-primary teachers with a diploma qualification by 2013.
“Many teachers with certificates would like to improve their education. But they cannot do so because they do not want to risk losing their jobs,” Makakane says.
He says teachers’ welfare should be given priority if the government is serious about getting all children in school.
“Teachers should be taken care of to ensure quality education for students.
“Maybe our leaders should start cutting their benefits to make way for more important things.”
Teachers say they would appreciate having some bit of recognition from the government and the public.
‘Mamoruti Mofo who has been a teacher since 1988 says teachers are getting a raw deal from the government.
“Teachers are belittled in Lesotho. You should see how education officers treat us when we seek services.
“They give us very little respect. We deserve better treatment because of the work that we do,” Mofo says.
Another local teacher, Mosiuoa Kobe, says teaching is a thankless job but teachers deserve respect for doing it.
“We are doing the most important job in the country. There wouldn’t be economists, ministers, nurses and everybody else if it were not for the work we do.
“Teachers instil moral values in students so that they become responsible people. This is the toughest job in the world. We should be respected for that,” Kobe says.
The general consensus is that things are not going on well for Lesotho’s teachers.
But a militant teachers’ union, the Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU), says complaining meekly will not change their situation.
The LTTU’s secretary-general, Vuyani Tyhali, says complaining alone will not be enough.
The only way to get their message across would be by downing tools.
“I do not get it when teachers raise all these complaints and then go back to sit in the classrooms. They should protest.
“It is a right to express one’s feelings. We are concerned by the delay in paying teachers’ salaries. Soon we will be seen in the streets protesting against this practice,” Tyhali says.
But the principal secretary in the Ministry of Education, Motsoakapa Makara, says there is no need for teachers to embark on that route.
Makara says the teachers’ grievances are being addressed.
In a letter addressed to PALT dated April 30, 2010, Makara says the ministry is seriously addressing the teachers’ concerns.
“The Ministry of Education and Training has pleasure in informing you that a Sarage exercise will soon be undertaken by the teaching service department.
“In this exercise every teacher’s experience will be considered and thereafter be remunerated accordingly,” reads the letter.
“Again the Ministry of Education and Training has already made preparations for the implementation of teachers’ appraisal system as indicated in the new teachers’ career structure.
“All stakeholders will be invited to meetings before the implementation of the system.
“The purpose of the meetings will be to disseminate information regarding teachers’ appraisal system in preparation for its implementation,” Makara says in the letter.