A practical solution to educational imbalance
By Alfred Geresom Musamali*
The author of ‘what future do poor upcountry children in Uganda’ made an interesting analogy between the British education system and that of our country (Uganda) in his most recent Bedside Reading “What future do upcountry children have?”
After a series of comparisons between the UK and the Uganda systems, The author concluded that our’s (Uganda’s) is slightly ahead of theUK’s. The author nevertheless pointed out the imbalances between rural and urban Uganda in the system, finally recommending that ‘A practical partial solution, wrong as it may initially seem, is a discriminatory remuneration policy, which rewards upcountry teachers with a significantly higher salary – to motivate them into teaching pupils with a dedication equal to (that of) the Kampala (special lessons’) coaches’.
I like the word ‘partial’ because it gives the impression that there are additional solutions, which I now wish to suggest.
In my opinion, the real reason why upcountry teachers in Uganda are today unable to devote to educating the children under their care is because they too look for better livelihoods in other activities, such as, surprisingly, peasantry farming.
Again in my opinion, the real reason why Kampala teachers have to coach is, ironically, because they also have to look for better livelihoods, but in their cases, in part-time teaching. The old times the author and I are talking about were different. When we both went to school in eastern Ugandain the 1960s and 1970s there was no need for our teachers to show off their own houses.
Instead, the teachers prided in good staff accommodation in school compounds. There was no need for a lower level teacher to have a personal car to travel to work because the distance between the staff house and the classroom was a few metres.
Sometimes the school also provided a break-tea and a lunch. And if a teacher had a child, even just a relative, who fitted into the school, that child was admitted automatically and, in some cases, fees incentives offered. So just because of those petty incentives, that teacher had all the time to lesson plan, deliver the lesson, mark the books, involve in extra-curricular activities, and get to know the children, their parents and their neighbourhoods really well.
The better relationships resulted into better academic endeavours on the side of the child, whether in Katakwi Rural or Wakiso Urban. And where things were not working, disciplining a child was a collective effort between the teacher, the parent and the neighbours.
That is what we now think is too communistic. We have instead commercialised everything. The best Katakwi teachers have migrated to Kampala to look for money. Even if you transferred such teachers back to Katakwi and offered them double pay, there would be no staff house in which to live.
The teachers would, therefore, build a better structure for themselves in their own villages and spend a good fraction of the day commuting to the school (after all, with the better pay they can afford a motor cycle or a car!). In the morning they would till their gardens before coming to work. In the evening they would go back to their gardens before dusk sets in. From the garden they would also go sit on a high bar stool and order a beer and roast chicken, roast goat meat or roast pork, like any other ‘progressive’ Ugandans.
The one teacher who would not see this economic prosperity opportunity and utilise it to rear animals or birds, grow rice, run a shop, ride a ‘boda boda’ (motor cycle taxi) etc, would be the fool.
But then, when would such teachers lesson plan? When would they mark the children’s books? When would they participate with the children in debate, drama, dance, music, football, netball, or any other co-curricular activity? Why would any teachers (I was one for almost 15 years!) spare time to know your child better in today’s Uganda yet you are going to raise dust for them on the road in your car without offering them a lift to school or back home because you neither know them, nor wish to know them, nor care about their plight in any other way?
Besides, nobody wants to become a teacher these days. In the school days of the author and myself the teachers’ colleges admitted the brightest candidates and guaranteed them a job at the end of the training if they were successful.
But because teachers, particularly primary school teachers, are so down-trodden and demoralised today whoever passes Senior 4 (Ordinary Level Secondary), even weakly, goes on to Senior 5 and 6 (Advanced Level Secondary) as a way of evading ending up as a teacher of that category (Grade 3).
Today even the brightest candidates who finish ordinary level secondary and proceed to Grade 3 teacher training are hardly guaranteed a job at the end of that training, not because they have no market but because some other bureaucratic process for ages blocks them from accessing the national salary payroll. And those who get to S6 and fail cannot again come back to do the primary teacher training because the move would demoralise them too. So teacher training is just another gamble.
And after teacher training, should you get a job in the district where the District Education Officer does not like you, you cannot be transferred to another district because you are an employee of a particular local government, recruited, confirmed in service, transferred, promoted, reprimanded and retired by that particular local government even when you are paid from the Consolidated Fund.
When, therefore, you get fed up with your local government you just defect from service and go to coach other people’s children in Kampala to make a quick juicy buck rather than remain frustrated where you are. In any case the main reason for remaining would be the promise of a pension, which you may never get because you must serve for a minimum of 25 years or be aged 55 years and above in order to qualify.
Yet, after that patience, there is the chaos in the Pensions Office, making it easier for you to faint in the long queues and die without getting what you sweated a life-time for. The pension is a very wonderful safety net though, if you persevere and finally get it.
In other words, Uganda has to get back to the fundamentals of what an education community means, rather than simply offer teachers – like the author suggests – a discriminatory remuneration.
Unfortunately because, unlike the author, I have neither lived in nor just visited the UK, I have no suggestions for his British education system.
* The writer of this article is a Kampala-based teacher, journalist and public relations practitioner