It’s the beginning of a new school term, and as has become the norm, teachers are protesting. They want government to increase their salaries by 10 per cent this academic year as promised in 2014.
It’s common knowledge that Ugandan teachers are one of the poorly salaried civil servants. The student to teacher ratio which stands at 1:53, plus the insufficient incentives such as housing, does not make the situation better.
Over the years, our teachers have been fighting for what is due to them and rightly so. The back-and-forth discussions with government for pay rise, the demands, threats and actual protest against government’s failure to honour its pledge, is something that has dominated our headlines.
There have been media reports of teachers who don’t have the basic tools of trade such as chalk or boards to conduct lessons, others share toilets with their pupils, while some female teachers, just like the girls they teach, miss school because they can’t afford sanitary pads. These are embarrassing realities.
Although government has made some steps, such as paying science teachers a 30% allowance, 30% for hardship allowance, constructed some teachers houses and committed Shs25b to the teachers’ SACCO, all these seems to be a drop in the ocean.
At institutions of higher learning, the situation is not any different. Lecturers, notably at Makerere University, have almost every semester downed their tools in demand for better pay and welfare.
But let’s step back from the shadow and look at the other side of the coin.
The Daily Monitor recently published a story about how lecturers at Makerere have been gifting retakers and outright failures with distinctions for money.
There have been lingering reports of sex for marks and sexually transmitted degrees at universities. There have also been cases where lecturers refuse to mark students’ research papers unless ‘something small’ is given, contrary to rules; and there have been cases where lecturers award marks without marking scripts. All this is public knowledge, a shameful public knowledge.
Back to primary and secondary schools, cases of teacher absenteeism persist, while in some of the moneyed and ‘elite’ schools, exam malpractice and theft thrive as proprietors strive to have their students declared ‘stars’ in newspapers and to have the biggest enrollment at university.
In 2011, the Uwezo report revealed that Ugandan pupils can neither read nor write. In 2015, the report shows that our pupils still can’t read and write and that “Uganda has continued to perform worse than her counterparts (Kenya and Tanzania)”.
At university level, most graduates join the job market when they are half-baked and or clueless about what they were supposed to have learned. While the blame can be partly put on the largely theoretical education curriculum, it’s also true that very little teaching, instruction and guidance takes place at most universities.
So what we have is a situation where pupils who can’t read and write are ‘automatically’ promoted; at secondary school, they cheat their way to university, and cheat or sleep their way to graduate, cheat to get a job and cheat at the job.
Some of our teachers are sadly a product of this messed-up system and they continue to feed the children with the same value system.
Isn’t it time the revered and respected teacher of the 70s and 80s stood up and be counted? Isn’t it time our teachers show us value and justification for their demands? Isn’t it time our teachers make a concerted effort to redeem the profession by coming up with to-do lists to sanitize the education system? How about our teachers down their tools over the insufficient or late funding from government? How about our teachers quit class over the lessons that still take place under trees, the absence of school inspection or the things that go wrong in a pupil/student’s life?
Teachers deserve better pay, yes, but pupils and parents too deserve better output. There are still, no doubt, teachers of valor and students of substance, but what about the rest?
Times are hard, but as demands are made, let’s not close our nose to the smell coming from beneath the desks.