Cleaning the system will take extraordinary courage and zeal

Education is once more in the limelight. And that is good.  It means that we care about our children’s education. It means that we care about our nation’s future.

Our education system is mired in a problem just as many of our other service systems. Although we can figure problems, we have yet not been able to fix them, because changing a system is so difficult that changing a head to lead doesn’t help.

Maternity leave is now a new problem. Did we see it coming? A good number of civil servants are women, and when they can be out of job for good six months on maternity leave, how do we deliver services effectively is in question.

Our civil service runs on the idea of small, tight and efficient system. There is no space for replacement. Shortage of manpower can be felt seriously, as indeed some sectors are already compelled to grapple with.

Some of the government offices are known for not having the officers on the desk. They are on studies, we are told. If they are not on studies abroad, they are out playing archery, or just not available. Service delivery has not been the biggest of our civil servants’ strengths. We have had to put up with it because civil servants are so important that they run the country and get all the recognition.

But then, the system is also eating into the school system, which is worrying.  Schools are facing acute teacher shortage although we are compelled to believe otherwise. A good number of our teachers are women. When they take leave for maternity reasons, and for six long months, there is going to be implications, both shot- and long-term.

There have been some teachers who returned to school just three months after their full six-month maternity leave. They came back because they had no choice. We commend their courage and concerns. But, isn’t something really going wrong with our vision of compact civil service and blatant political game?

No sector hurts so badly as does education the way we deploy our civil servants. We talk about skilled, efficient and dedicated civil servants. Education minister himself said recently that nothing can replace skilled, efficient and dedicated teachers. Yet we make do with contract teachers.

There are other problems in the education system. Why are we burdening out teachers with non-academic responsibilities for example? Cleaning them will need extraordinary courage and zeal.

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