Following the recent closure of schools and the implementation of lockdown to combat the novel Corona Virus, many sectors including the education sector have been shattered. One statement that has been fullfilled like the Holy Scriptures is that “one can starve amidst plenty”. If you consider the situation of teachers before and during the lockdown, their plight is at stake. Teaching is considered a noble profession since all other professionals pass through it. However, it’s now clear that when the professionals leave the hands of teachers, they forget where they came from like a child who grows up and decides to cut off from parents after becoming wealthy.
Teachers in Uganda especially those in private schools have always suffered from injustices. In fact, COVID-19 has revealed that teachers are critically vulnerable and need an urgent action. Even before COVID-19, teachers had challenges, some would work without appointment letters; they were paid as little as 80,000ugx per month (implying that they lived below one dollar in a day which is the true manifestation of working poor); they had no job security, they were not paid during the holiday; and even at the end of month, the 80,000ugx would be paid in installments or not paid at all.
To those who earned above the URA income threshold of 230,00ugx, PAYE and NSSF would be deducted but not remitted to the responsible authorities. Amidst all these injustices, the stakeholders have deliberately kept a deaf ear pretending that everything is okay. Are these teachers martyrs without any cause? Why should they dedicate their lives to nation building and be forgotten and mistreated? Ministry of Education and Sports has a constitutional obligation of regulating, directing, controlling and influencing business in private schools and other education institutions. In the MOES guidelines for staff employment in private schools and institutions, guideline No. 5 (9), it’s clearly stated that school management shall pay the full time staff during both school term and school holidays. If we are to base our discussion on this, teachers should be paid during the lockdown regardless of the “Force Majeure” principle.
To add salt to the injury, when schools were shut down during this crisis period, whereas teachers in government schools are guaranteed salaries, teachers in private schools are not. Most private schools have laid off some workers and suspended the contracts for teachers. Uncertainty has gripped teachers and their future looks bleak. Some teachers have changed their perception about the profession.
During the lockdown, many are doing anything in order to provide for their families, some have gone to the extent of terminating their lives because of extreme suffering and torment. Majority however have opted to venture into informal businesses like vending roasted maize, working on construction sites as porters, digging for daily wages and washing clothes for neighbours to earn a living.
This is worrisome because teachers are not only academic transmitters and facilitators but they also shape learners by acting as examples. Teachers’ respect and self-esteem is already at stake. What image is radiated to learners and the teaching profession? Are we heading for a situation where the teaching profession will be ignored?
To further investigate into this issue, I had a chat with a teacher of English in one of the urban private schools in Gayaza and he had this to say;
“As a teacher, I feel like I took a wrong path in my education because as of now, I’m unable to support my family even with basic necessities of life. I have betrayed my family. I have been teaching for 15 years giving my whole life to the school, but unfortunately, my school is unable to pay my salary and the government has kept a deaf ear. It’s almost impossible to get the teachers’ relief money released by the government from Micro Finance Support Centre because of very long process. I feel that as teachers, we are martyrs without cause…”
In countries like Germany, to become a teacher is one of the most cherished dreams because the teacher is among the highly paid workers.
In Uganda, most teachers in private schools hardly had any savings at the beginning of the lockdown. Some at the time had not been paid February salary, therefore for 9 months, they have never earned, yet they have to live. They have faced the reality of life that they were not ready to face.
In a situation when parents expect a justified fee cut on school fees because their businesses are in shambles and private schools seem to be on the verge of closure and only money of government employees is the only money circulating forth in market, it’s still not guaranteed that teachers’ livelihoods will improve. By leaving teachers at the mercy of unpredictable circumstances will hurt the country’s future.
If we are to build a resilient education system for equitable and sustainable development to respond to the immediate challenges of safely reopening schools and cope with future crises, then we must address the current challenges faced by teachers.
By Tumwesigye Michael
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