Northern Uganda has been making news around the world albeit with little involvement of the residents of the north themselves over the Kony 2012 video which I feel grossly misrepresented Uganda in the eyes of the world and the reaction of the Prime Minister & the press release by the Minister of Information & National Guidance was long overdue. The other is the Nodding disease tragedy which hit the region. I would however wish to talk about education today.
Reading the article “UNATU is right to scoff at the proposed 15% increment” authored by Dr. Opiyo Oloya and published in the New Vision of February 8, 2012, the case of contradiction of beautiful structures and how poor pay and poor service are indelibly woven together would not be put any better.
In the magnificently crafted piece which is of course full of originality, the Doctor narrates how on a sunny morning while travelling through the countryside west of Gulu town about a year and half ago, he came across a newly refurbished school gleaming with bright paint and neatly trimmed yard. Finally, it seemed like a dream school after the lost two decades of war in northern Uganda. The doctor goes ahead to narrate how he moved to the school office only to find it deserted which prompted him to go from classroom to classroom looking for a school staff member to talk to.
As it happened, he only encountered children in their green shirts and khaki shorts seated quietly on their desks gleaming expectantly for a teacher to show up. As he soon came to find out, throughout the whole school there was no teacher to be found!
Then the teacher in him took over, he marched into the classroom, grabbed a piece of chalk and started taking them through a poem. I like this part. Thank you doctor for giving back to the society!
This is the picture in many schools in northern Uganda and of course in other parts of the country.
Teachers across the country work hard to meet the demands of daily family life. Despite the hard economic times, most teachers stick it out in the classrooms even as their families go almost half-naked and starve due to poverty. But this is a debate for another day.
Today, I am particularly interested in the contradiction between the magnificent buildings in the newly refurbished schools and the services offered in the same study centers.
For those who have visited northern Uganda recently, you should have noticed several newly revamped schools fully equipped with standard science labs. They shade a picture that the north is finally on its way to recovery in the education sector as well after the two lost decades of war.
The contradiction however is in the staffing and subsequently, services offered. The inadequate staff available which negatively impacts the standards of education being offered in the schools is no match to the magnificent buildings.
Sometime in February 2012, the ministry advertised for the recruitment of over 1,500 secondary teachers countrywide. What is disturbing is that the north was not catered for. And it is not because they have enough teachers.
I did some research on Kaabong district which is one of the hard to reach areas of the north and found out that despite the fact that the district has only three secondary schools. Pope John Paul Memorial Secondary School is private and the other two are government aided. These schools are grossly understaffed. Kaabong Senior Secondary school which also has refurbished buildings and equipped with a standard science laboratory apparently has only 7 teachers on the government payroll instead of the planned 22 teachers. This represents understaffing of 68%. Around 10 other teachers offer services to the school but are yet to be placed on the government payroll. This is not a very isolated case as it depicts the pattern in many other schools.
On 23rd February 2012, the Minister of Education Hon. Jessica Alupo visited the district schools and one would expect her to be alarmed by this situation to almost attract an immediate attention to this imbalance. I would be interested in learning what she did to alleviate the situation.
What I know though is that after she left, teachers who include graduates who were earlier earning around UGX: 400,000/= per month from the school funds apparently had their salaries reduced to a miserable UGX: 250,000/= allegedly due to limited funds. Why should a school in such a sensitive area be paying teachers from it’s limited resources and not have them on the government payroll?
Two issues stand out here.
First, education is an integral part of developing the north and ought to be treated as such because it is only then that the societies will become active participants in the development process of this country.
Secondly, to retain teachers in the north which comprises of the so called “hard to reach” areas, the government should ensure that they are adequately remunerated which at the very least means putting their names on the government payroll.
We all know that most graduates are reluctant to work in most parts of northern Uganda. If the few graduate teachers who have dedicated themselves to serve selflessly in this region are not catered for and end up leaving, the greatest losers will be the people and development of northern Uganda.
The relevant stakeholders need to place and operationalise added incentives which was the idea behind the “hard to reach” allowance for teachers in such disadvantaged areas to retain fully trained and experienced staff to complement the refurbished structures. At the bare minimum, they should urgently be placed on the government payroll.