School year risks being written off by teacher strikes

Primary and secondary school teachers in Benin who have been striking since 8 January warn they will not back down, even though their actions threaten the possibility for thousands of children of completing the school year.

“There are no negotiations happening at the moment to end this strike,” said Raouf Affagnon, secretary general of the national teachers union.

The union’s demands include improvements in the salaries and benefits given to them by the government, and more secure contracts.

Benin’s powerful unions are a legacy of the 1972-1989 period when Marxism-Leninism was adapted as the national ideology.

A tiny West African coastal state of around 8 million people, Benin already had chronic education problems.

According to the UN children’s agency (UNICEF), less than 60 percent of school age children ever attend school. Of those who begin attending in first grade, only half will complete primary school.

The shortage of trained teachers, especially women, and the lack of adequate school facilities are the biggest problems facing Benin’s educational system, UNICEF says.

“Teachers strikes have disrupted efforts to enrol and retain students,” the agency notes in a Benin information document.

Alain Dossou, a parent of four children enrolled in public schools, said he is “exasperated” by the ongoing strike.

“They should think about the future of our children instead of their privileges and egoistic interests,” he said.

“No-one understands what they are doing,” Dossou added. “Even if they have a problem to right with the state, they should not hurt the innocent children in the process.”

gc/nr/aj