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Teacher strikes may mean ‘blank’ school year

Empty classroom in a school in rebel-controlled northwestern Cote d'Ivoire, June 2007. State teachers were observing a strike; some local volunteer teachers held classes.
(Nancy Palus/IRIN)

In Mali the most important exams come last: the baccalaureate at the end of June. But this year, with secondary-school teachers in their seventh straight month of strikes, the exam risks going unmarked, meaning students may face a blank school year. That is making many of them angry.

Secondary school teachers have refused to invigilate or mark any secondary school exams. While the government sent in emergency invigilators from the national teaching academy to monitor the exams which began in late May, these invigilators are not qualified to mark them.

“It is time for the arm-wrestling between the government and teachers to stop. Our future of is at stake,” said Mohamed Ibrahim Baby, secretary-general of the Association of Malian students (EMEA). “How can we study throughout the school year yet not have our exams marked?”

The baccalaureate is the minimum qualification for many professional posts in Mali, including the teaching profession, and under a quarter of Malian students reach the position to take it.

Teacher demands

Teachers are asking the government to give them a US$142 housing allowance, calling for contract teachers’ salaries to be increased and for salaries to go up year on year as teachers remain in the system. Currently, while pay increases annually at the same rates as all state-sector workers – they went up by five percent in January 2008 – the pay-grades do not. Meanwhile qualified teachers who are not state-certified receive lower salaries than government-qualified teachers and are unable to participate in teacher training.

“None of our demands have yet been met,” complained Youssouf Berthe, secretary-general of the country’s group of teachers’ unions, COSES. “The government has paid university professors US$142 each to help them with housing - why can’t we get the same? This isn’t a luxury we’re demanding, it’s simply so we can live in decent conditions.”

And the fight does not look set to end. “We have decided to go all the way this time – we will not stop until our demands are met. They must be resolved once and for all this year,” Amadou Lougué a teacher at Kati Secondary school, 20km from Bamako told IRIN.

Protests have worked in the past. In 2007 teachers unions protested for the government to meet back-payments for overtime worked, and the government relented in February 2008.

In a press conference on 8 June President Amadou Toumani Touré announced the government was seeking solutions to end the crisis, but that when it came to the housing allowance the government would not give in.

The reason he gave was simple: “The state cannot afford to pay such an allowance,” he told reporters.

“We have made enormous efforts to improve the lot of teachers. If we also give housing allowances today, tomorrow they will ask for more, and after that health-workers and other state officials will ask for the same thing,” President Touré continued.

The education ministry has set up a special Parliamentary commission to meet with teachers’ unions, parents and students associations to try to resolve the crisis.

Some school-heads welcome the move. “We will take all necessary steps because we must save the school year. A blank school year doesn’t suit the students or their parents and will not serve the country,” said Daouda Simbara, head of a secondary school.

In the meantime, parents and students are calling for the stand-off to end. The EMEA has appealed for “good sense to prevail” from all involved, while Mamadou Traoré, member of a Bamako-wide parent-teachers association told IRIN, “Teachers must know that every fight has an end. The government has already satisfied some of their demands. They must now think about the lives of students who have not yet completed the school year.”

He added, “You cannot get everything you want at the same time.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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