Revisiting the government’s priorities

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

We’ve said this before and we will say it again. If this government is serious about improving education in this country, it should put its money where its mouth is. How? 

It’s simple really. Pay teachers what they are worth. You see, if education is the key to the future, as the government keeps saying, let them show it.

The same could be said about the health sector. 

If the government is serious about everyone having access to quality health care, invest more money into the people who are most important. They include doctors, nurses and health specialists who can operate those wonderful machines we’ve got gathering dust at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital.

The truth is undeniable. When it comes to education, flash buildings don’t produce bright students. Good quality teachers do. Which is where we’ve got a problem. The majority of teachers in this country are paid peanuts. 

It not just ridiculous, it is unrealistic because all we’re ever going to get are students who fail themselves, their families and the community.

For a moment, take your mind away from the students who graduate with degrees and other qualifications from universities and educational institutions in Samoa and abroad.

Instead think about the hundreds who don’t make it. Think about the young people who are falling through the cracks, the ones who end up unemployed and left with nothing to do but create social chaos as a result of idleness.

Isn’t that one of the roots of our many problems today? You see, these problems are products of the system, a system created and is being implemented by the government.

Let’s be reminded that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

It is time to revisit how these priorities and promises are being walked out. A good start will be to look at developing better teachers. 

For this country sorely needs them. It is no secret that at the National University of Samoa, it can be argued that the brightest minds don’t want to be teachers. As a matter of fact, most students in the Faculty of Education ended up there because they couldn’t get into other programmes they would have preferred. That’s where our problems begin.

But you can’t blame our brightest minds for looking elsewhere. Who wants to be a teacher when the salaries are so bad? Who cares about making a difference if your pay can’t feed your multiple children? 

One of the attractions about becoming a teacher is the idea that school finishes in the afternoon and teachers then have some time off, unlike all other 9am to 5pm jobs.

That has now been changed with colleges finishing at 4pm. What that means is that teachers are working like all others for the same hours – if not longer - and yet still get the same pay. 

What’s worse is that when teachers go home, they are expected to prepare their lessons for the next day, taking up most of the night. This is unfair.

The question is, since this system of longer school days has been around for a couple of years now, has it improved anything? Has it contributed to the improvement in exam results or has it only created more problems? This is a valid question that must be addressed. 

At the end of the day, this is a government that is forever talking about health and education as a priority.

Yet from what we are seeing today, that is a load of rubbish when it comes to teachers and core health workers

We have both Ministries that are so top-heavy the bulk of the money is tied up there when it should be used to improve the very essence of why these Ministries exist.

If teachers are that important, pay them just as well as the doctors. Give them incentives to stay and become better teachers.

Some people will ask ‘but where can the government get the money?’ Why don’t we start by getting rid of these money-wasting projects?

How is this country prospering from nearly $20million of taxpayers’ money that has been wasted on that Saitoa wharf that’s become a rather ugly sight on a most beautiful part of the country? What about all those white elephants at Tuanaimato, Vaitele and Savai’i?

Maybe someone should again remind this government about its priorities. They are supposed to be Health and Education.

The truth is that whereas doctors shortage has yet to be addressed, education is in a mess. 

The sad reality is that the folks in charge of the system are trying to fix everything else but the one issue that should be addressed is being ignored.

Here it is once again; if we want bright students, attract brighter teachers. Pay them what they’re worth and make a real effort to keep them.

Do the same with health workers if we want a better health system.  That is the only way to go. Otherwise, if we continue to pay peanuts, all we’re ever going to get are monkeys. And that’s a future nobody wants.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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