By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Government Primary schools opened for third session without teachers in classrooms and Makerere University remains closed. Teachers and lecturers are demanding pay rises which the government has rejected. The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati spoke to renowned educationist Prof. William Senteza Kajubi about this and more.
When teachers go on strike what does it mean for this nation and education system?
Teachers like doctors are professionals who under normal circumstances should put their clients’ interests first. In other words, when doctors strike patients are badly affected, so it is with teachers. But this does not necessarily mean that they should be taken for granted because when education was started by missionaries here it was taken for granted that teachers like missionaries should be humble in every aspect including their demands in regard to remuneration.
But we should know and accept the fact that teachers like all other workers have obligations. They have to feed well and have peace of mind to do their job properly. When the shoe pinches people are not at ease. The cost of living has gone very high up. A teacher should not do without a kilo of sugar or a kilo of meat simply because he is a teacher and his salary is low. It might be true that government does not have all the money teachers are asking for but it should take negotiations so that it comes to amicable solution to the problem rather than threatening to sack everybody and recruiting new ones. Where are those new teachers and why are they not in school now? It means the government has not sympathetically looked at the plight of teachers especially when it threatens to dismiss and replace them. It implies teachers are not all that essential.
But as a form of negotiation government has promised teachers a gradual salary increment starting next financial year with 15%.
The teachers get very low salaries, some of them as low as Shs 200,000 what can you do with this money if you have got a family. Yet teachers are supposed to dress decently so as to give children a good example. I think the patience of teachers is really coming to an end. But they should consider negotiation until most of their demands are met. The military tone of government will not work.
Do strikes usually solve problems?
Labour laws recognise strikes. The use of force and threats on peaceful strikes that rise their voices on the conditions under which they work is not the way to solve problems. These people need to be listened to and discuss with them.
What would be the long term implications on education system if teachers carried on the strike?
Well, as it appears government says it has other teachers so let other teachers come in. I don’t think the schools will be affected and I don’t think a government official at the level of prime minister can tell a lie. They have the teachers. I think this arrogance that teachers are too many and almost giving the impression that we don’t need them; that they are too many when we give them a salary rise the government can’t afford it. This strikes me as being strange and indifferent because teachers have just seen government dishing out money during elections. When teachers see this kind of money being dished out they see there is money and begin asking why it is that it is not there when it comes to teachers. It is strange that government spends money on teargas to stop people from walking to work because they can no longer cope up with high fuel prices.
How do we get out of this situation leaving everyone satisfied?
Government has the power to negotiate with teachers. But we have had problems in the past that whenever there is a slight disagreement with government the solution has tended to be force and I think that force is not good.
At Makerere University lecturers are on strike looking for a pay rise and the university was closed for the second time in less than 5 years. What does this tell us about the problems of Makerere and government?
It means there is something wrong which government has not yet been able to get at. It means teachers are always the last to be considered in this country regardless of whether they are university or elementary school teachers as far as remuneration and other conditions of work are concerned. This is partly why brain drain is high in this country. The poor work conditions are forcing such professionals to serve in other countries instead of Uganda. We should consider the concerns of teachers on salary very seriously; maybe government should set up a commission of inquiry to examine this issue thoroughly and get ideas from the public on how to solve it once and for all.
Must teachers look at salary or service to the nation?
Conditions of service include pay. These should be addressed. Why is it that when we train people here many of them drift abroad? It is worrying when you look at government expenditure on for instance on security and public administration compared to sectors like education and health. Government should consider ways of reducing on public administration expenditure so that it can redistribute the limited resources equitably. Government must not only be tactful but it must appear to be sympathetic to all sections of economy. Makerere lecturers have been demanding better conditions of work for long; many are retiring having saved their money which was given to National Insurance Corporation and they cannot get it easily, why?