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‘we called him ‘tortoise’ because he taught us’

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

Lewis Carroll

A report released yesterday in the UK claims that a quarter of teachers there routinely work a 60-hour week.  To put that into context that would mean they either work almost 9 hours a day, 7 days a week,  10 hours a day  6 days a week or perhaps 12 hours a day for 5 days a week, presumably Monday to Friday.  

The study by the UCL Institute of Education said that five years of government initiatives to reduce excessive workload, introduced by three different education secretaries, have done nothing to cut the total number of hours worked by teachers which have remained high for two decades. Researchers found that teachers in England work 47 hours a week on average during term time, including marking, lesson planning and administration, going up to about 50 hours in the summer during the exam season. 

That is eight hours more than teachers in comparable industrialised countries, though the disparity with some countries is even greater. While the average full-time secondary school teacher in England in 2018 worked 49 hours per week, the equivalent teacher in Finland clocked up 34 hours.  The study revealed that two out of five teachers in England usually work in the evening and one in 10 at the weekend. Full-time secondary teachers report they spend almost as much time on management, administration, marking and lesson planning (20.1 hours a week) as they do teaching (20.5 hours).

The findings are based on data from more than 40,000 primary and secondary teachers in England collected between 1992 and 2017. The lead author, Prof John Jerrim said: “This is the first study to attempt to track the working hours of teachers over such a long period of time.  “Successive secretaries of state for education have made big commitments to teachers about their working hours – how they are determined to reduce the burden of unnecessary tasks and how they will monitor hours robustly. Our data show just how difficult it is to reduce teacher workload and working hours.”

The National Education Union, which represents more than 450,000 teachers in the UK, said excessive workload was one of the key reasons why a third of newly qualified teachers quit English classrooms within five years. “There is no reason to suppose this will change. In our most recent members’ poll, 40% predicted they will no longer be in education by 2024,” said Kevin Courtney, its joint general secretary.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “As today’s report shows, the number of hours teachers work has remained broadly unchanged over the last 25 years. We have, however, been making concerted efforts to reduce workload driven by unnecessary tasks – 94% of surveyed school leaders report they have taken action to reduce workload related to marking and more than three-quarters say they have addressed planning workload.”

Call me cynical but I don’t totally buy it.  First off, the statistic, whilst headline-grabbing, could and perhaps should be read as three quarters of teachers don’t work such long hours.  So does that make the remaining quarter harder working and more professionally committed or does it possibly mean that they’re just  slower to complete tasks and poorer at time management?

Tuning in to media discussions on the subject I can say that there is little sympathy amongst the general population and more than a smidgin of cynicism.  People were quick to point out that  school hours are far less than the normal working day in industry and commerce, being only around 6 hours per day against eight or nine.  They also pointed up that schools are closed at weekends when many other businesses have to remain open for economic reasons.

Then there is the clear difference between the way teachers work in primary and secondary schools.  Primary teachers are pretty much full-on throughout the day,  in charge of a single class but secondary teachers are allocated curriculum time slots to work with different age groups and in between have  what are known as ‘free periods’.  Those non-teaching hours can be used for marking, lesson-planning and research and on a 6-hour day, even topped up with two hours after school – secondary and primary – still would only tot up to an absolutely average 8-hour day.

And then there’s the holidays!  On average a teacher has 13 weeks holiday per year, on top of their weekends off , public holidays and half-terms.  I had no idea how they might occupy their three months plus paid free time but a quick Google search provided dozens of sites offering employment opportunities for vacationing school teachers  covering a plethora of occupations from flight attendants to environmental researchers.

That also weakens the argument that teaching is a relatively low-paid profession since there are few other lines of work where staff receive extraordinarily extended paid holidays and still are able to benefit from an extra income from a second job which in no way interferes with their first and nor does it entail burning the candle at both ends.  Nice work if you can get it, as the saying goes.

So yes, my take on this week’s shockandawe headline is to turn it on its head.  After all, we look on most stats in terms of majority findings so a similar headline which stated, for example, that a quarter of people don’t drink tea or coffee with their breakfast would rather prove that most people – three out of every four- do. 

And in this case three out every four teachers don’t work a 60-hour week – probably nothing like –  and even the ones who do still have more than 3 months a year to recuperate.It also offers a new take on that age-old saying,  ‘Those who can, do and those who can’t, teach’.  Clearly there should be a caveat that actually many of them both can and do but only in the long summer holidays!

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Economic Resurgence Options: Is Export-Led Growth Tenable For Botswana?

22nd September 2020

The world in which we live is a criminally unequal one. In his iconic 1945 allegorical novella,  Animal Farm, a satire on the facetiousness  of the then Soviet Empire’s crackbrained experiment with a command economy, the legendary George Orwell in my view hit the nail squarely on the head when he said all animals were equal but some animals were more equal than others.

That’s the never-ending dichotomy of the so-called First World and its polar opposite, the so-called Third World as Orwell’s cleverly-couched diatribe applies as much to the tread-of-the-mill laissez faire economics of our day as it did to Marxist-Leninist Russia a generation back.

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Victory is Won

22nd September 2020

Israelites take Canaan under General Joshua

Even as the Nation of Israeli braced to militarily take possession of the Promised Land, General, its top three senior citizens, namely Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, were not destined to share in this god-conferred bequest. All three died before the lottery was won.

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Finance Bills: What are they about?

22nd September 2020

Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and Accountants (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were expeditiously passed by parliament on Thursday.

What are these two Bills really about?  The Bills are essentially about professional values that are applicable to auditors and accountants in their practice. The Bills seeks to basically enhance existing laws to ensure more uprightness, fairness, professional proficiency, due care, expertise and or professional technical standards.

The Financial Reporting Act, 2010 (FRA) establishes the Botswana Accountancy Oversight Authority (BAOA), as the country’s independent regulator of the accounting and auditing profession. BAOA is responsible for the oversight and registration of audit firms and certified auditors of public interest entities.

In the same vein, there is the Accountants Act, 2010 establishing the Botswana Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) which is responsible for the registration and regulation of the accounting and auditing profession. This consequently infers that some auditors have to register first with BICA as certified auditors, and also with BAOA as certified auditors of public bodies. So, the Bills sought to avert the duplication.

According to Minister Matsheka, the duplication of efforts in the regulation of auditors, which is done by both BICA and BAOA, creates a substantial gap on oversight of certified auditors in Botswana, as the two entities have different review procedures. He contends that the enforcement of sanctions becomes problematic and, thus, leads to offenders going Scot-Free, and audit quality standards also continue to plunge.

The Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020, in the view of the Minister, brings the oversight and regulation of all auditors in Botswana under the jurisdiction of the Accountancy Oversight Authority and that Bringing all auditors within one roof, under the supervision of BAOA would therefore reinforce their oversight and significantly enhance accountability.

He also pointed that the Bill broadens the current mandate of the Authority by redefining public interest entities to include public bodies, defined as boards, tribunals, commissions, councils, committees, other body corporate or unincorporated established under any enactment.

This covers any company in which government has an equity shareholding. In order to enable the process of instituting fitting sanctions against violation of its provisions, the Bill clearly lays down acts and lapses that constitute professional misconduct.

This Bill further strengthens the sanctions for breach of the Act by public interest entities, officers, firms, and certified auditors. Reinforcing the law with respect to such sanctions will act as an effective deterrent for breach of the Act.

The Accountants Bill also strengthens the current mandate of the Institute by making it obligatory for those who provide accountancy services in Botswana to register with the Institute, and for all employers to hire accountants who are registered with the Institute.

The Minister reasons that in line with the spirit of citizen empowerment, this Bill proposes reservation of at least 50% of the Council membership for citizens. This, he says, is to empower citizens and ensure that citizenries play an active role in the affairs of the Institute, and ultimately in the development of the accounting profession in Botswana.

The Bills come at a point when Botswana’s financial sector is in a quagmire. The country has been blacklisted by the European Union. Its international rankings on Corruption Perception Index have slightly reduced.  According to recent reports by Afro Barometer survey, perceptions of corruption in the public service have soured and so is mistrust in public institutions.

Rating agencies, Standard Poor’s and Moody’s have downgraded Botswana, albeit slightly. The reasons are that there continues to be corruption, fiscal and revenue crimes such as money laundering and general unethical governance in the country. There are still loopholes in many laws despite the enactments and amendments of more than thirty laws in the last two years.

One of the most critical aspect of enhancing transparency and accountability and general good governance, is to have a strong auditing and accounting systems. Therefore, such professions must be properly regulated to ensure that public monies are protected against white color crime. It is well known that some audit firms are highly unprincipled.

They are responsible for tax avoidance and tax evasions of some major companies. Some are responsible for fraud that has been committed. They are more loyal to money paid by clients than to ethical professional standards. They shield clients against accountability. Some companies and parastatals have collapsed or have been ruined financially despite complementary reports by auditors.

In some cases, we have seen audit firms auditing parastatals several times to almost becoming resident auditors. This is bad practice which is undesirable. Some auditors who were appointed liquidators of big companies have committee heinous crimes of corruption, imprudent management, fraud and outright recklessness without serious consequences.

There is also a need to protect whistleblowers as they have been victimized for blowing the whistle on impropriety. In fact, in some cases, audit firms have exonerated culprits who are usually corrupt corporate executives.

The accounting and auditing professions have been dominated by foreigners for a very long time. Most major auditing firms used by state entities and big private sector companies are owned by foreigners. There has to be a deliberate plan to have Batswana in this profession.

While there are many Batswana who are accountants, less are chartered accountants. There must be deliberate steps to wrestle the profession from foreigners by making citizens to be chartered.  It is also important to strengthen the Auditor General. The office is created by the constitution.

The security of tenure is clearly secured in the constitution. However, this security of tenure was undermined by the appointing authority in many instances whereby the Auditor General was appointed on a short-term contract. The office is part of the civil service and is not independent at all.

The Auditor General is placed, in terms of scale, at Permanent Secretary level and is looked at as a peer by others who think they can’t be instructed by their equivalent to comply. Some have failed to submit books of accounts for audits, e.g. for special funds without fear or respect of the office. There is need to relook this office by making it more independent and place it higher than Permanent Secretaries.

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