The NPP government has introduced the free senior high school (SHS) program and the intention is to ensure Ghanaian children have access to free senior high school secondary education; it is without doubt a potentially significant game changer that could positively transform teaching and learning outcomes. The program will also enable the realization of SDG 4 which focuses on education. Quality teaching and learning outcomes require many factors including quality physical structures, strong leadership and management of educational institutions, improved governance and accountability mechanisms, the right technology and adequate logistics etc.
In this article, we will argue that on top of the factors earlier on mentioned, an integrated talent management approach with a focus on investing in the status, skills and motivation of teachers is key to drive sustainable execution of the potentially transformative SHS program.
Teachers serve as role models who nurture the talent of children in the classroom so they could grow up to become responsible adults and active citizens who contribute towards economic growth and prosperity of the country. Unfortunately, in recent times, the images we have of the teaching profession especially at the primary and secondary levels are nothing to write home about. In Ghana, teachers no longer enjoy the highly respected status that they used to retain decades ago.
There are many cases where some teachers have been associated with many child rights abuse, gender-based violence, sexual coercion and harassment in schools thereby affecting the reputation of the profession. These challenges notwithstanding, there is a solid business case to invest in developing the teaching profession to make it the number one professional vocation of choice in Ghana to drive transformation and prosperity. Three key factors will be examined namely talent management, compensation philosophy and learning & development.
In theory, the teaching profession should be the vocation of choice that attracts the best students and graduates. There is a reason why at the Universities, the top performing students are prioritized and carefully selected as teaching and research assistants and nurtured to become lecturers and researchers. It is striking that in Ghana the professional status of teachers has waned and most graduates will rather opt for careers in medicine, law, business instead of teaching.
While there are many talented top students who have voluntarily opted for the teaching profession due to their behavioral commitment, intrinsic motivation and passion for teaching, there are many more who have simply selected the teaching profession because they had no other option and teaching offered an easier route to earn a living.
Even more worrying is the relatively poor performing students and graduates who go into the teaching profession as a last resort, the risk is that a weakly talented teacher will deliver mediocrity in the classroom and end up producing half-baked students whose learning potential will be significantly damaged for life and they will, in turn, unleash their half-baked knowledge to the wider society thereby creating a critical mass of “illiterate literates” which is a recipe for sustained poverty and conflict. There are a variety of recruitment and selection methodologies, technologies, tools and instruments from modern HR best practices that can be used to design rigorous assessment and development centers to carefully select the right talent into the teaching profession.
Varkey GEMs foundation recently did a survey on Global Teacher Status index to measure the level of respect for teachers in different countries. Out of 21 countries surveyed in the Index the data from China confirmed that people see teachers as having an equal status with doctors. Now can anyone fail to think far to see why China is now THE leading economic and political powerhouse in the global community of nations? If we did a random sampling of the perceptions of parents towards the teaching profession and posed the question – how many parents will like their children to choose teaching as a profession?
Another key enabler for building the status of the teaching profession is having the right compensation philosophy to attract, develop and retain the best graduates into the teaching profession. Research shows that the better teachers are paid, the greater the student outcomes, Owen Harvey-Beavis(2003). Defining a compensation philosophy is very crucial in achieving business performance. In simple terms the employer must have a compensation philosophy that will articulate “why” “how” “what” and “when” factors in managing compensation. Some employers position themselves at the 50%, 75% or 95% or 130% of the applicable labour market and manage compensation around the desired comparatio.
For example, there is no reason why government as an employer cannot intentionally define a compensation philosophy for teachers at 75% of its comparator labour market, and design the pay and benefits structure around this threshold. This approach when reinforced by a values driven performance and results management system can be used to differentiate, reward, and recognize high performing teachers. The HAY job evaluation system focuses on 3 key elements namely accountability (freedom to act, accountability and impact of actions and decisions), problem-solving (thinking environment & thinking challenge) and technical know-how (technical knowledge, management skills and human relations).
If applied correctly, HAY can help to radically re-conceptualize the ideal teacher job profile to become a benchmark for quality assurance in the public educational system. A well-developed and understood job evaluation system aligned to a radical compensation philosophy will enable a successful execution of the free SHS program.
Even though ability to pay is a major determinant for developing an attractive compensation system, the basic foundational principle is to anchor it on a solid compensation philosophy that defines market positioning for the rate of the job of a teacher and helps to build the right policy, processes and systems for sustainability. The labour market analysis approach, provides a relatively low cost and high impact allocation of resources in teacher compensation management, and this model can be applied to the teaching profession in Ghana.
The return on investment on establishing a radical paradigm shift on how government selects, hires, trains, motivates and develops teachers will positively enhance the realization of the free SHS program to improve quality teaching and learning outcomes. There is a greater probability that a motivated teacher will show high levels of discretionary efforts (ie go beyond the normal call of duty), behavioral commitment (ie show passion and appetite to positively nurture the talent of a child for life long learning) values driven rational commitment(ie consistently apply in principle and in reality the right professional pedagogy values and standards) and finally intent to stay ( ie will religiously pursue the teaching profession as a life time career until retirement and not see it as a stepping stone or temporary stop gap job).
Finland, which came top of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings (OECD PISA 2015), has made teaching so well regarded that the very best graduates compete for the job — all of whom have master’s degrees.
Learning & Development
Investing in the continuous vocational skills training and professional development of teachers is critical towards improving the status of the teaching profession as well as quality teaching and learning outcomes under the free SHS program. Learning and development initiatives such as building a network of communities of practice of high performing teachers who are organized to learn, share and reflect and improve professional standards, promoting knowledge management initiatives that capture and properly document best practices in teaching and learning innovation and technology, organizing international exchange programs for high performing teachers, establishing mentoring schemes for teachers and promoting the participation of high performing teachers in cross functional projects that links teaching and learning outcomes to critical transformational policies of government are some of the areas where Government can partner with the private sector to deliver.
The Entertainment industry with the support of the media can also develop TV and radio programs ie series, films, documentaries etc that showcases the positive transformative impact of the teaching profession. The annual teachers' awards scheme program must be rebranded to assume the same status as the national farmers day.
The rebranding must not be tokenistic but must also introduce very rigorous evidence-based criteria with a wider multi-disciplinary stakeholder engagement including the private sector to confirm the breadth and depth of the accomplishments of the nominees and winners in promoting quality teaching and learning outcomes.
If teachers aren’t respected in our communities, children won’t pay attention to them in class, parents as primary duty bearers won’t reinforce the messages that are coming from school and the most talented graduates in Ghana will continue to disregard teaching as a profession.
Over time, this declining respect for teachers will weaken teaching and learning and negatively affect the learning opportunities for the Ghanaian child and ultimately slow down the pace of transformation in the Ghanaian society in the long ran, if we want future generations of Ghanaians to be values and integrity driven with the right transformational attitudes and belief systems to reach their full potential, then the government as duty bearer must take advantage of the new free SHS program and put in place sustainably integrated talent management initiatives to select, build, motivate, grow and develop the most talented students and graduates to pursue a career in the teaching profession.
The best talented students and graduates must be the ones who have to be attracted to the teaching profession, not the poor performing students or graduates!
Attract the best into the teaching profession, train and pay them well and the return on investment will be massively positive and transformational and this can contribute significantly towards the sustainability of the free SHS program.