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The popular misconception out there is that teaching is easy and less stressful, generally because teachers have a short working day, that is from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The reality is that teachers, despite having a short working day, have loads of work to do even outside school hours.
Teachers spend weekends planning not less than 30 lessons and preparing teaching and learning materials for each of the lessons.
With school supervisors’ focus on work output, teachers have to give more course work and spend hours marking.
Teachers in many primary schools in the country are taking larger classes.
As a result, they have to spend extra hours in school after closing to finish marking because the timetable is packed with little or no time for that.
Those who would not want to spend extra time in school marking have only the option of forgoing their break time to do so.
Aside from the academic work, school years are dotted with many co-curricular activities that teachers must ensure they find the extra time to prepare their learners for participation.
They are also expected to be guidance and counselling ‘experts’ in our schools, providing counselling services to learners.
There are many other paperwork and administrative activities, coupled with series of meetings.
Several studies show that half of teachers’ times are spent on non-teaching tasks.
Often, this overload is underrated by society and even education supervisors and policy makers.
Recent discussions at several international education fora have brought teachers’ excessive workload to centre stage as having negative impacts on teacher recruitment, retention, teaching and learning.
In Ghana, the annual teacher attrition is 7,000. One cannot discount the unbearable workload in the profession as a common reason.
Some countries have seen the need to respond positively to the situation to promote quality education.
In Germany, for instance, the government signed an agreement, a seven-point plan designed to create time for teachers and heads to improve standards.
Some other countries have marking policies that aim at reducing the work teachers do.
In countries such as Finland, where teachers are given enough autonomy, they are allowed to build the timetable that suits them while still delivering a broad and balanced curriculum.
It was my expectation (and I believe also of some observers of the industry) that the recent reform would take into account the well-being of teachers and look at possible ways of reducing their workload.
Sadly, it has instead increased.
Teachers now have more subjects to teach than they used to.
Their closing time has been extended.
The number of daily lesson plans is not less than 50 for a week. In addition to the daily lesson plans, they are first to write weekly lesson forecasts apart from the yearly reports.
We must understand that any successful education reform depends heavily on well-trained and motivated human resources and I believe that the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Ghana Education Service (GES) know that.
But the reform ignored that.
Increasing teachers’ workload, instead of reducing it, is counterproductive. More work does not lead to teacher efficiency, because it is demoralising and leads to professional burnout with mental health concerns.
As Estelle Morris said, “A tired teacher is not an effective teacher. Nor is that teacher allowed to focus on what is most important – teaching.”
The increase in the number of subjects of study is not ideal. I genuinely believe we could have used the opportunity to reduce them to five or six (which is possible). That would have freed the teaching timetable for effective teaching and learning and reduced teachers’ workload.
Perhaps, that is too late. So what else can we do to reduce the unnecessary workload on teachers for them to focus on supporting their learners and their personal development? One, teachers must be provided with teaching and learning materials to reduce the time they spend preparing that.
Two, there should be an alternative to the daily lesson plans.
We can learn from some international schools here in Ghana. Instead of the daily lesson plan, teachers in such schools have a “teaching toolbox” that simplifies their lesson planning.
Three, the paperwork should be reduced. Technology is changing the workplace and teachers must feel that change. Systems can be created that will allow teachers to enter data once and all the analysis and reporting done for them.
Four, there should be different approaches to assessment to reduce the stress of marking too many scripts on several courses. Let us reconsider the case where teachers are expected to meet a high target of work output in a term.
Five, reduce the teacher deficit to deal with the situation where some teachers have large class sizes to teach.
Six, give teachers some level of autonomy to use their professional judgement in handling curricular and co-curricular activities.
There is more we can do and MoE/GES must work to see how best teachers’ workload can be reduced. The fact remains that teachers face unique pressure that is affecting their well-being and professional efficiency.
Not even a rise in pay can be a substitute for the need to reduce this pressure on them. When we do, it can be motivating enough and make the profession appealing and attractive to join instead of leave.
The writer is an Educator & Education Advocate,
Writer’s E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org,