Rumours want it that Senegal is among the countries which treat teachers well in the sub-region, especially those teaching in primary, middle and high schools. You may think this is true unless you carry out a thorough and objective analysis. So such information must be taken with a grain of salt. 

The present payroll system in Senegal is unfair, discriminatory, selective and totally ridiculous. Teachers represent more than half of all Senegalese civil servants, they have a significant purchase power, participate in training good citizens, skilled human resources and provide well-trained workers. Yet, their working and living conditions compared to other civil servants, are especially poor.

Senegal’s most prominent teachers’ unions known as G7 have been on strike since January 2020 declaring work stop on 22 Wednesday at 10 AM. In their first strike action plan one can read these legitimate grievances: “Considering the non-respect of agreements signed on 30 April 2018; Considering the expired deadline of strike action warnings of some unions without any response from the government; Considering the abysmal lack of consideration of the government for education and training; Considering the urgent need to require the government to wipe off the debts as agreed and stop immediately the overtaxation on teachers’ salaries.”

Teaching is a calling. This is the ready-made answer the government and parents use to remind teachers of their duties, responsibilities and devotion. Let me spell it out this way. Every labour is a calling. Whatever the kind of job you do, may it be well-paid or humbly-paid, you should do it very well. 

Teachers are not paid at the end of the month to stay at home. Their place is at school with the students just as the doctor’s is at hospital, the fruit seller’s at the market, the bricklayer’s at the building site and the lawyer’s at court. Teaching is not a gravy train though. There is no such thing as a picnic in teaching.

Teachers work at both home and school. There is no need to be green in envy when you look at a teacher’s day closely. Before getting out of their home, teachers wake up at cockcrow, prepare the lesson to teach and which they’ve been brooding over at night, and then go to school. Back home, they sometimes carry a bag full of papers to grade. 

So teachers manage their time between lesson plans, teaching, grading and designing tests. These overwhelming tasks rub them the wrong way. My question is: Who deserves to be treated better?

In Senegal, it’s almost impossible for teachers to work from October to July without going on strike. This is the result of bad governance, poor educational policy and national educational officials’ laxity in finding solutions. 

The reality of Senegalese schools are so stark that if teachers are lucky they will be in charge of overcrowded classrooms of 80 students hosted in temporary shelters made of fences or hedges from dry leaves. 

Students also do not have materials. So teachers become dictionaries, exercise books, and learners empty vessels. In reality, the problem is complex and multiple-pronged. Let me give some examples though.

First, classrooms hardly host forty students. They mostly contain more than 60 on average and in some areas more than a hundred. This is a burden for these “soldiers of the chalk”. They throw caution to the wind and help these kids become the best and brightest in their communities. Teachers are real heroes whose stories are untold.

Second, after a fifteen-year career in classrooms, teachers very often go to the dogs. They lose their youthful and smart teacher-attitude because their fellow civil servants in other domains such as tax, customs, police and other government bodies are treated much better. 

This causes demotivation that can be felt at the workplace. And teachers’ workplace, their office is the classroom. Teachers cannot do their jobs correctly while thinking of their careers threatened by decision makers’ laxity.

On another thing, this causes demotivation that can be felt in the students’ performance as well. Teachers have been going on strike for the same protest campaign for ages: slow administrative procedures, less opportunity for loans, decent housing, social justice in the civil service and so forth. 

How can a student who is supposed to have a five-hour course in maths or history and who just meets his teachers twice a month be successful?

Third, parents have given up on educating their children. You will be appalled at the increasing number of expensive smartphones in the hands of our ignorant and ill-mannered students whereas no books can be found in their bags. 

Their so-called parents or relatives cannot afford a cheap English workbook. In class, they scarcely have any respect for their teachers who are sometimes young but eager to give and share. This occasionally results in violent confrontations that end in stabbing, aggravated assault or disparaging words.

Teachers are brave soldiers who keep dragging themselves along. But will they keep up the good work? While these words are being read, the future remains yet dim and dark for our luminous eyes to penetrate its mystery.

Imagine this scenario and try to paint a picture in your head: you are supposed to teach 45 students at most but due to classroom and school shortage you have to take care of 115 students. Classrooms are so student-packed that teachers cannot even monitor their work correctly. Only one classroom dynamics is possible, that is teacher versus whole class. All courses are frontal, and teacher-centered, and worst of all, dispute and theft are frequent because of the unbearable promiscuity.

Furthermore, each table is occupied by three students; when they talk, the noise is such that you just want to leave the classroom at once; you cannot know everybody’s name and this frustrates some of them; you never meet their parents and therefore you have no chance to settle social matters as an educator; during tests you can never prevent them from cheating however cautious you may be; instead of having a rest after a hectic day’s work, teachers have to grade a huge pile of papers.

No, this is no dream. This is the stark reality in the daily life of many Senegalese teachers. These things can’t be understood by a stranger to the profession. There is more to the calling than meets the eye. 

Nowadays, teachers are being trained to adapt their practices to new methodologies and pedagogy which, unfortunately, must be backed by adequate measures. 

As a result of the heinous conditions depicted above, rare are “soldiers of the chalk” who practice what they were trained on. They adapt to the situation instead. Necessity is the mother of invention. As difficult the conditions may be, teachers always find ways and means to answer their call of duty. 

Indeed, these brave deserve decoration. But they need to be able to work until they run out of chalk without carrying placards reading “DIGNITY NOW,” “SOCIAL JUSTICE IN THE CIVIL SERVICE,” “DECENT HOUSING ALLOWANCE” and so on.

By Mouhamed DIOP, PhD candidate at Université Cheikh Anta Diop (Dakar, Senegal)

3 Comments

  1. Thank for your hard work

  2. AvatarCheikh S Sene says:

    You do deserve to be there , at Cheikh Anta Diop! Thanks for the wonderful moment tout granted me reading so a delicious piece of english (cake?).

  3. AvatarCheikh Mbaye Faye says:

    You did well brother. You understand well the matter.

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