At least teachers should always schedule to strike during holidays to help students you teach
COMMENT | MICHAEL WOIRA | A lot happens in this country of mine and sometimes I am forced to think that people have calendars of activities that they plan at every beginning of the year and they really fight so hard to make sure that their activities happen. Some plan to demonstrate, some plan to attack or abuse government officials, some plan politically motivated demonstrations and others sit and write to NGOs to sponsor their strikes.
This year, I have seen demonstrations happening and some have made me wonder what exactly is wrong with some Ugandans. A few months ago, a group of women demonstrated that Kameeza money is little so men should at least top it up so it is spacious enough. Then we have seen our usual chief demonstrator, Rtd. Col. Kizza Besigye doing his thing and many other strikes.
But, other strikes aside, this year has been so dramatic in the teaching profession as they have taken the noble award for being confused. It all started with the Science teachers who have been demanding for a salary increase. These have demonstrated for quite some time and they have been sorted in this financial year 2022-23 budget.
Since January they have been in and out of classes striking and the government has been assuring them of their pay till recently that they agreed to go back to the classes. And immediately after they were sorted, Arts teachers also started the strike saying there was discrimination in salary increase. They say that they are also teachers and deserve an increase. This is true but sometimes there should be a well-organised way of presenting such issues to government other than spending a lot of time out of schools because this really hurts students.
There is a fundamental problem in education that has been on evocative display recently. There is a lot confusion about who our schools exist to serve. Our public school system exists to give our children a foundation to help them become informed citizens.
But there has been deviation from the purpose of having our children in schools because teacher strikes are now happening in the midst of a critical time in the school year where we expect students to be at school concentrating.
I and many other Ugandans strongly believe in the importance and honor of great teaching and role played by our good teachers. We believe policy makers should set budgets so that the teachers earn reasonable salary and this should be done if the budget allows anyway.
I strongly disagree that adults in our public schools (teachers) should use systematic disruption of students and families that is, strikes or walkouts as a tactic to secure financial outcomes.
I studied from public schools all my time but we never experienced this. I feel like abrupt school closure interrupts and damages the progress of students. We either believe that school and teaching time matters, or we do not. Teaching time does matter, and we should be very reluctant to interrupt it. These strikes do exactly that. When KCCA cleaners strike, they lay down their equipment. When teachers strike, they lay down their students’ minds.
My other observation is that these adult trainers want us to treat them as professional and to be treated as such, they must act as such. Yes, its constitutional, individuals and groups have every right to seek enhancements to their salaries. But to do so in a manner that damages both students and the critical role government schools play is the opposite of professionalism.
Let’s be honest and recognise that the past weeks have not been about serving students, but rather pursuing financial ends, thus hurting the cause of professionalism. There is a time, place, and manner for these financial discussions. Strikes that happen during school time are not good at all. Atleast they should always be scheduled during holidays.
In any structure of limited resources, challenging demands and employees desiring salary enhancements, friction is unavoidable. People speaking out loud for their salary enhancements interests and what they perceive to be the interests of their group is right. But, attempting to achieve that through educational and family disruption by going on strike is not worthy enough, I think.
All strikes are not the same, but if I had to generalise I would say that strikes that drag on for a long time hurt the students, and often impact their families adversely. So the more they drag on the less sympathy people will have for these teachers of ours.
Surprisingly, now the science teachers want to go back to class but again the arts teachers have left the school and students will not be in classes just waiting for science classes.
You are right to strike but I ask that please think about the future of these children that you are punishing because they are very innocent and they never made choices to join these public schools and they have no option. That is why, even when you go on strike, they walk back home and get back when you are ready to teach them.
Michael Woira is a patriotic Ugandan