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 Teacher blues

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Number of posts : 225
Localisation : France
Organisation : UL CNT Besançon
Registration date : 2006-08-20

PostSubject: Teacher blues   Wed Nov 08, 2006 12:24 pm

Al-Arham Weekly, 1-7 November 2006

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Teacher blues

A knock on the door of Ragab's house in Minya, Upper Egypt. It is late July, 1988, and the postman hands him the long- awaited "appointment letter". Since graduating from university, Ragab has been looking forward to this day. Never mind that he is to work as a primary school teacher in a remote village 40km away from his home; with the income thus made, he would finally be able to carry part of his father's financial burden. No chance of doing that with LE48, however, which is exactly what Ragab got the first time he went to collect his monthly salary. Not only was he unable to help his father, he would actually have to go on "borrowing" from him for basic daily needs. Moving to Cairo seemed the only way out. And sure enough, after 19 years in government schools, Ragab's salary has risen -- to LE250 ($43.5). LE1 billion might have been set aside to right this incredible wrong, but will it make a significant difference? Ragab, 40 and fed up, is quite understandably sceptical. "Even if it went up by 30 per cent, which is what they claim," he says, "that would leave me with LE325 a month. You think that's enough to live on?" Ragab was unable to marry before years and years of hard work, during which he resorted to private tuition -- a ubiquitous if legally frowned on mechanism whereby students receive the exam training the schools fail to provide in return for providing the teachers with enough to live on. "The government has forced us to follow this path," Ragab emphasises. "I wish they paid us enough to give that up. It is no easy thing to knock on a student's door to give private lessons -- it makes me feel like a beggar."

Hamed, a secondary school mathematics teacher, agrees: "It's illogical to spend 12 years teaching and still get no more than LE300 a month. It goes without saying that such a salary is not enough for basic day-to-day needs. Even if it is doubled now, the figure would still be ridiculously low. A teacher needs at least ten times the current rate to live a decent life." Nor will the increase be without its incumbent obligations. Hamed has no doubt that it will mean extra work. It is no way to treat a teacher, he says, citing the example of a friend of his who works in Scotland: "His annual salary is ¨35,000, and his work load, as I estimate it, is about 30 per cent of mine." He takes issue especially with the Teachers' Syndicate, which, he says, failed to defend teachers' rights or provide privileges comparable to those of journalists, for example. "Yes the public schools are dysfunctional, and yes, teachers are partly to blame. But the issue is much, much bigger than that," he says. "If the government made private tuition illegal, the education system would collapse overnight." Hamed reiterates Ragab's view that the private tutor is generally speaking in a rather humiliating line of work -- looked down on and disrespected.

Yet there are those, like Arabic teacher El-Sayed Ibrahim, who seek to supplement their income in other ways. In the afternoon, Ibrahim, for his part, works as a maazoon -- a Muslim sheikh responsible for finalising marriage contracts. Though more or less strictly separated, his two roles have collided; when he was called twice for a divorce on two separate occasions during school hours, for example. Still, it saves him from what he regards as haram (religiously forbidden), having grown up in a large family that couldn't afford private lessons and suffered at the hands of government school teachers who discriminated against him because he was not their private student. And, true to form, Ibrahim is more enthusiastic about the proposed raise than other teachers spoken to: "any raise will make a difference. As far as I'm concerned, it's worth far more than the money I would get from private lessons." He has seen many a private tutor exhausted to the point of falling sick, he says: "they suffer from the symptoms of old age before their time, because they spend most of the day and night working and moving from house to house..."

Others still seek greener pastures in oil rich Arab countries -- something Ragab attempted. "But submitting the application," he recalls, "was one of the worst experiences in my life. I had to queue up for six hours at the United Arab Emirates Embassy before an employee came out and told everyone to throw their papers in the bin; he was unbelievably rude." Ragab never tried again. More desperately, teachers have taken the initiative to suggest ways of improving their financial conditions. "Textbooks cost the government hundreds of millions," Hamed says. "The Teachers' Syndicate suggested that students should hand in their books at the end of each school year for use by other students in the following years -- a system implemented in many countries abroad. This could release money for supplementing teachers' salaries. As it turns out, Ministry of Education officials, who receive a commission on every printed copy and make money from selling books at the start of every school year, blocked the plan." According to Ragab, another suggestion involved channelling the income from private tuition -- estimated at an annual LE7 billion -- back into schools, recognising the fact that free education is a myth.

Apart from the syndicate, teachers blamed the ministry where officials, in Ragab's words, "are willfully blind to our needs. They give themselves the right to speak on our behalf, which means that our problems are never solved. Even the training courses they hold are irrelevant to the situation on the ground. The rules that regulate student-teacher relations are unfair to us, with cases of sexual harassment very easily fabricated." More generally, teachers point to political corruption. "Our plight is part and parcel of the corruption that has infiltrated every aspect of life," Hamed says. "No change is in sight so long as corrupt officials are in charge of the ministry. Each new minister sets out to discredit his predecessor, with neither strategy nor planning. Nobody cares about the future of the country." Ragab agrees: "to cut a long story short, there is no political will to solve the educational problem, and particularly that side of it to do with teachers. Before this crucial riddle is solved, we will just have to go on as are..."

Submitted for approval by the People's Assembly this month, a new Ministry of Education law proposes to raise the wages of school teachers', with a minimum monthly salary of LE500 on appointment.

Current teachers' salaries:

Primary School Teacher:

Newly appointed: LE151 per month; net: LE221.5 + LE1500 annual bonus

After ten years in post: LE181 per month; net: 268 + LE1600 annual bonus

Preparatory School Teacher:

Newly appointed: LE180 per month; net: 249 + LE2500 annual bonus

After ten years in post: LE290; net: LE394 + LE2500 annual bonus

Secondary School Teacher:

Newly appointed: LE227; net: 282 + LE2500 annual bonus

After ten years in post: LE475; net: 585 + LE3500 annual bonus

_________________
The basis of socialism is the human being.
Socialism is the movement to restore human being's conscious will.

Mansoor Hekmat
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