By Moses Ahiapokpor
A code of ethics and professional conduct outlines the ethical principles that govern decisions and behavior at a company or organization. They give general guidelines on how employees should behave, as well as specific guidance for handling issues like harassment, safety and conflict of interest. It is worth noting that a subtle difference exists between a code of ethics and a code of conduct. A code of ethics is broad, giving employees or members a general idea of what types of behaviors and decisions are acceptable and encouraged within an organization. A code of conduct is more focused and defines how employees or members should act in specific situations.
Many definitions of ethics abound. Ethics is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right conduct. Rushworth Kidder states that standard definitions of ethics have typically included such phrases as “the science of the ideal human character” or “the science of moral duty”
Richard William Paul and Linda Elder also define ethics as “a set of concepts and principles that guide us in determining what behaviour helps or harms sentient creatures.
The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy states that the word “ethics” is commonly used interchangeably with “morality” and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition, group or individual.
Recent media reportage on grievous misconduct perpetuated by teachers in some rural communities creates the vacuum for anyone to question the ethics of the Ghanaian teacher. The teacher who is a dispenser of knowledge is required to be morally and intellectually sound in the discharge of this prestigious role. It is often said that knowledge without character is useless and the deluge of unethical conduct among Ghanaian teachers of today is painting a very bad image of the teaching profession. This canker needs a total overhaul to re-install the trust and confidence that the public once reposed in the teaching profession.
The discussion on “ethics of Ghanaian teachers” has gained academic discourse due to the fact that teaching is regarded as a profession and the court and traditional adjudication centres are inundated with varied cases of misconduct leveled against teachers.
The media is also awash with reports on teacher misbehaviours. Quintessential examples of these misconducts perpetuated by Ghanaian teachers are chronicled as follows. On 25th January, 2018, a leaked sex tape involving the Headmaster of Adumanu D/A Basic School, Robert Sepey and his former student now known as the ‘kitchen stool’ sex scandal was reported on mynewsgh.com to have dominated media discussions in the country.
In March 2018, it was again reported on citifmonline.com by the Public Relations Officer of the GES, Casandra Twum Ampofo that Ghana Education Service (GES) has sacked four teachers of the Ejisuman Senior High School in the Ashanti Region for sexually assaulting some students. Four other teachers of the same school have been transferred after dozen of the students testified that they were sexually abused in various forms.
Aside this development, other cases of sexual assault involving teachers have been recorded in other regions. The Headmaster of Battor Senior High School (SHS) in the North Tongu district of the Volta Region, Lawrence Kwasi Korley, was reported on 17th July, 2018 on citinewsroom.com to vacate his post to pave the way for investigations to be conducted into an alleged sex scandal involving him and a female student of the school.
July 14, 2015 it was again reported on General News that ten girls have been sexually assaulted by three male teachers at different times within the academic year. A girl who was said to be have been impregnated by one of the teachers reportedly had to abort the pregnancy few weeks ago in order to participate in the recent Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE).
Another unethical conduct among Ghanaian teachers beside sexual misconduct is the issue of corporal punishment. On 25th March, 2014, it was reported on citifmonline.com that police at Gambia No.2 in the Assutifi North District of the Brong Ahafo Region have to arrest a suspect for assaulting and stripping a female teacher, Regina Pokua, naked for caning a student at the BA primary school.
Further, a disheartening incidence of physical torture as a form of punishment was the instance where a student walked on his knees resulting in excruciating bruises. Reactions of parents of this student put the ethical and moral standings of the teacher into disrepute.
The pertinent question that one would ask in the light of the aforementioned horrendous acts perpetuated by teachers are: “Are teachers adequately exposed to the ethics of the profession and laws relating to their work?” “Do teachers possess adequate knowledge on the legal implications of their job?” “What are teachers’ sources of knowledge about the ethics and laws relating to their job?” These are questions that beg for empirical-based evidence in providing answers.
Frankly speaking, the Ghana Education Service has a hard bound booklet titled “Teachers’ Code of Conduct – Rules of Professional Conduct for Teachers in Ghana”. It makes elaborate provisions on general definition of misconduct and rules of conduct for teachers. The rules of conduct for teachers encompass in-depth guidelines on teaching notes, exercises, working hours, performance of duty, private activities during business hours, co-curricular activities, improper use of children’s hours, protection of children from torture and other degrading treatment such as physical violence, psychological violence, sexual violence, inordinate affection, drinking, drunkenness, smoking among others.
This same booklet categorically spells out penalties for minor and major misconducts and specific disciplinary procedure to be instituted in any event of any misconduct. The provisions of this document are to serve as watchwords for teachers in the discharge of their duties as professionals.
It can be said unequivocally that the full intent of Ghana Education Service for publishing the handbook on “Teachers’ Code of Conduct” remains unaccomplished since most teachers are not only ignorant about the existence of such document but are also reluctant to read for information regarding the ethical conducts of the teaching profession. Most teachers only scan these documents in preparation for promotion interviews and after this interview they turn to have forgotten the provisions therein.
It is no twisted fact that the educational system of every jurisdiction is expected to produce students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that would make them fit into the society; and teachers play important role in ensuring quality educational outcomes for students (Savalainen, 2004). Their behaviours contribute to shaping the students entrusted in their care. In order for teachers to execute their functions exquisitely and efficiently, they are required to acquire both academic and professional qualifications. This makes professional preparation of teachers inevitable.
Teaching is a profession and its members need to be professional in the conduct of their work. The professional training is to imbibe in students the professional acumen they need to measure up after their training. Professions have ethics and laws that guide members in their dealings with stakeholders.
In Ghana, the teaching profession has ethics and laws regulating its activities which members need to be aware of and adhere to. As people in duty of care position, teachers need enviable knowledge on the ethics and laws regulating their service to help ensure professional conduct and practice.
In other professions like journalism and law, organization of workshops, seminars, symposia, lectures, retreats and conferences to update their members on ethics and laws governing their profession are everyday ritual. The law profession, for instance, has instituted annual workshop on ethics and law for it members and the 2016 legal ethics training programme was launched at the new Court Complex in Accra by Justice William Atuguba (Mensah-Tsatsorme, 2016). Formal teaching of ethics and laws, organising events on them and availability of books on ethics and laws provide clear means of equipping members of those professions to conduct themselves and their activities professionally.
Nonetheless, the afore-stated avenues that those professions use to fortify their members on ethics and laws do not seem to prevail in the teaching profession. Members of the teaching profession are left on their own to do what pleases them and are on most occasions victims of the old adage “ ignorance that comes from freedom enslave the one who entertains it.” Reflecting over the comment of Mr. Lawrence Kwasi Korley in response to the alleged kitchen stool sex scandal that “I am a man, there is no law on morality, other than that I should be behind bars. No one has come to arrest me, radio stations are saying I have been arrested but I am still in school,” clearly depicts the gross level of ignorance and impunity on part of teachers as far as ethics and laws are concerned.
A study conducted by a student of Catholic University College, Alfred Kuranchie on the topic “Inclusion of Ethics and Laws Related to the Teaching Service into Teacher Education Curricular: Should it be a Sine Qua Non,” made a very empirical finding. He sampled two groups of participants namely practising graduate teachers who either had Bachelor of Education or non-education Bachelor’s degree with a diploma or postgraduate diploma in education from any recognized university in Ghana. The other group of participants is tutors and lecturers involved in the training of teachers at the higher level. The purpose of the study was to gather information on the prevalent situation with regard to the teaching of ethics and laws governing the teaching profession and to call for discussion on the matter.
Findings of the study suggested that ethics and laws governing the teaching profession are not given priority in the education programmes of universities. Meanwhile, the curricular of other professions such as accounting, pharmacy, law among others expose students to ethics and laws in the course of training to equip them with the competence they need to execute their responsibilities professionally upon completion of their course. Do education programmes run at bachelor or masters teaching level have courses on ethics and laws related to the teaching profession? The answer is a big no.
Ignorant Ghanaian teachers will continue to disgrace themselves and become object of public ridicule unless policy makers take this issue as a national canker and implement sound mechanism to nip it in the bud. What do we see? Reactionary approach is often the posture of both policy makers and implementers. They are ever ready to transfer or temporarily suspend teachers in the event of any misconduct, forgetting that the harm caused to innocent students has already occurred.
If dismissal, temporal suspension or transfer of unscrupulous teachers is the best option to curtail this menace of ethical misconducts among Ghanaian teachers, then the mass number of teachers who were either transferred or sacked should have made this problem a thing of the past but the menace still prevails.
What should be the way forward? I will like to implore on Ghana Education Service and the various teacher unions to take the following suggestions seriously to redeem the reputation that the public once reposed in the teaching profession.
- Orientation service that is always organized for newly posted teachers entering into the teaching profession should have an extensive session of education on the provisions of the “Teachers’ Code of Conduct – Rules of Professional Conduct for Teachers in Ghana”. Teachers should be given free copy of this handbook on code of ethics to serve as their ‘daily manner’ in order for teachers to be abreast of all ethical issues concerning their profession. When this is done properly, half of all behavioural maladjustments exhibited by some teachers would be solved. This is because the provisions of the code of ethics categorically touch on specific expectations from a teacher regarding issues that are core to the profession. These specific issues are guidelines on teaching notes, exercises, working hours, performance of duty, private activities during business hours, co-curricular activities, improper use of children’s hours, protection of children from torture and other degrading treatment such as physical violence, psychological violence, sexual violence, inordinate affection, drinking, drunkenness and smoking among others. Definition of what constitutes misconducts and penalties for minor and major misconducts are also clearly spelt out in this same document.
- There must be inclusion of code of ethics for teachers into the educational curriculum of Colleges of Education and other Universities noted for training teachers. This is because the moral upbringing of teachers cannot be taken for granted. Teachers are to mould the character of the children entrusted to them and if the teacher himself is morally bankrupt, how can this responsibility be achieved. With early exposure on issues on code of ethics (rules of professional conduct for teachers), teachers are better positioned to display high level of professionalism when they enter the field of teaching.
- Workshops, seminars, symposia, lectures, retreats and conferences must be regularly organised to update Ghanaian teachers on ethics and laws governing the teaching profession. The various teacher unions in the country should complement the effort of the government in this regard. Funds should be made available to the organizers of these workshops so that renowned and astute resource persons on ethics and laws can be contacted to enlighten teachers on the ramifications of ethical violations or misconducts.
- Stiffer punishments beyond mere transfer or temporal suspension must be meted to unscrupulous teachers and school heads to deter others from engaging in similar acts. The call from Child’s Right International (CRI), for reports of investigations into alleged misconducts to be made public must be taken seriously. The Executive Director of Child Right International, Bright Appiah, told Citi News that merely interdicting accused persons or transferring them was not deterrent enough. “When we conduct investigations into a matter that reveals that certain people to whom we’ve committed our children to are taking advantage of them, we have to take the report seriously and take all the appropriate measures to deal with it.”
Often times, various education directorates in the country only transfer or temporarily suspend teachers and head teachers found guilty of sexually abusing their students, a situation many have described as worrying.
- The recently launched National Teachers Standard by the National Teaching Council must be supported by everyone to yield its intended results.
In a nutshell, I implore on the various stakeholders in the education sector to join forces in taking pragmatic measures in place to eradicate unethical conduct among Ghanaian teachers. This will go a long way to bring back the trust and confidence that the public has in Ghanaian teachers as an agent of change.
We continue to teach! We live to teach! That’s our calling! God will reward us! We must not relent! We keep Ghana going! We produce enlightened citizenry! Teachers let’s behave! Shalom!
The author, Moses Ahiapokpor, is an experienced educationist with many years of varying experiences. He has trained students and young leaders all over the years. He considers his passion for instilling knowledge, skills and total education as a crusade of revolutionary onslaught to be done until death. Comments, suggestions and remarks are welcomed on whatsapp number +233502291294
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Classfmonline.com (July 17, 2018) Sex Scandal: Battor SHS head suspended. Retrieved from http// classfmonline.com on 18th November, 2018.
Citifmonline.com (July 14, 2015) Teachers sexually abuse 10 pupils in Ho basic school.
Citinewsroom.com (July 5, 2018) GES sacks 4 teachers of Ejisuman SHS over sexual misconduct. Retrieved from http// ghanaweb.com on18th November, 2018.
Citinewsroom.com (23rd April, 2018) Punish teachers, heads severely for sexual abuse- Child’s Right International. Retrieved from http//ghanaweb.com on 18th November, 2018.
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