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Science teachers stay away as Ugandan schools start term 2

President Museveni, First Lady Janet Museveni and the leaders of UNATU at Kololo for world teachers day. Museveni said then that he wants science teachers paid more. PHOTO PPU

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPDENT | Science teachers stayed away today as schools opened for the second term. The teachers stayed away as part of the industrial action announced three weeks ago to compel the government to enhance their salaries.

Through their umbrella, Uganda Professional Science Teacher’s Union the science teachers vowed to stay away at the start of the second term to protest the government’s failure to enhance their salaries and improve their working conditions.

At Kampala high school, the students turned up in huge numbers but didn’t find science teachers to attend to them. A senior six student studying Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics who declined to be named told our reporter that the teachers sent them messages indicating that they might not turn up.

“We thought it was a joke but recently we saw the same message on the news. It’s real now. We are here revising and peer teaching ourselves as we wait for a way forward. Our arts colleagues have received teachers,” the student said.

The Assistant Director of Studies, Muadhe Salim, said that he had not aware of the absence of science teachers at the school. He, however, noted that if the situation continues this way there might be a crisis in schools.

At Kololo High School, efforts by the school management to come up with an in-house solution fell on deaf ears. The deputy headteacher, Ibrahim Ssembatya, says that they wrote inviting the teachers to a meeting to find a way forward but none of the 28 science teachers showed up.

“We now have a management meeting to seek a solution because it seems this strike might go on for a longer time than we had earlier anticipated,” Ssembatya noted, hinting at a possibility of hiring some science teachers on a private arrangement to close the gap.

In the greater Luwero sub-region, science teachers also kept away from classrooms. At some schools like St Andrews Kasaala SS, Nambi Community SS, Mulajje SS, Luwero SS, Wakatayi and Katikamu Seed Secondary School the few teachers who turned up didn’t step into class.

Some of the teachers were seen in their gardens and private business. They decried the low pay, saying it can sustain them amidst skyrocketing commodity prices. Sulaiman Ssemwogerere, the Coordinator for Uganda Professional Science Teachers Union in Luwero district, says that several teachers stayed home to protest the government’s failure to increase their salaries.

Ssemwogerere says that several science teachers in rural are unable to take their children to good schools because of poor pay and operate in ill-equipped laboratories.

Sula Naminya, the headteacher of Nambi Community SS, said that he recieved a notice indicating that the science teachers will not appear in solidarity with their colleagues pushing for a salary increment. He, however, said he needed time to establish those who were away.

Some school administrators have downplayed the strike within their schools. Abubaker Kabuye, the headteacher of Wakatayi SS, said that it was still early to tell who is on strike or not because the teachers were still reporting.

Robert Mugabe, the Director of Studies at Luwero SS, said that those that were not around the school are just absent because they had no lessons today, adding that they expect to see them on the days as indicated in the timetable.

The situation isn’t any different in Masaka district. At Kijjabwemi Secondary School in Masaka City, some of the teachers were yet to report back for duty despite the presence of the students. One of the teachers, who preferred not to be named told URN that they may appear to receive students but they will not conduct lessons until they receive a commitment from the government about its long-awaited pledge.

Ramadhan Katende, the UPSTU coordinator for the greater Masaka sub-region, said that they are not ready to return to class until the government responds to the long-awaited demand. He said that they are in touch with the network in the region and unanimously agreed to participate in the sit-down strike to move the Ministry of Finance to respond to their salary demands.

In Northern Uganda, science teachers in private and government-funded schools showed up at schools. However, those on the government payroll refused to step into class. One of the teachers who didn’t want to be named for fear of reprisal told Uganda Radio Network (URN) in an interview that he will continue to come to school to prepare lessons but won’t teach his students.

Geoffrey Ojara Ojiri, the Chairperson of the Uganda Professional Science Teachers Union (UPSTU) in the Acholi sub-region, said that their members won’t enter class until they get clear feedback from the government.

Similarly, Patrick Robinson Okwir, the head teacher of Inomo Secondary School, said that only 3 out of the 15 science teachers attached to the school reported for work on the first day of school opening. He asked the Science teachers in Lango to call off the strike and teach the learners while they engage the government on the issue of salary enhancement to improve performance in schools.

In the Western part of the country, reports indicate that many science teachers have stayed away from duty. At Rwimi Secondary School in Bunyangabu district, only seven teachers out of the 35 teachers showed up for classes.

Geoffrey Tumwebaze, the Chairperson Association of Secondary School Headteachers in Mbarara City and Head Teacher Nyakayojo Secondary School, said that he had recieved information from other headteachers that some teachers have decided to stay away.

He says that they have agreed to open up registration books for those that have reported to ease their assessment. He says that they have given those that have not reported until Tuesday to report or else they report them to the higher authorities.

Remegio Byamukama, one of the science teachers and headteacher of St. Mary’s College Rushoroza in Kabale district, said that at the school, the science teachers sat and resolved to teach as they push for their demands.  Byamukama says that decision to lay down tools was decided by a few union members but not all.

Last week, the Minister of Education Janet Museveni said that she was aware of the teacher’s plight and that the government was working towards addressing it.

The minister however said that the issue of salary increment is not an issue of science teachers only but cuts across. She said something needs to be done to ensure that all the salaries of teachers nationwide are increased.

Despite the outcry of learners, school administrators and the minister of education for science teachers to be patient, Vincent Elong, the National Chairperson of the  Uganda Professional Science Teachers’ Union remains adamant.  Elong said that they will not conduct any class until the government fulfils its promise to enhance their salaries as they have done for scientists in other sectors.

Elong says that in the first budget framework paper, Shillings 111 billion had been earmarked to enhance salaries for secondary science teachers and Shillings 27 billion for scientists in tertiary institutions. He added that this money has however been reallocated. Elong says that they will not listen to any empty promises but want to see that their money is allocated in the 2022/2023 budget.

The last teacher’s strike in the country took place in 2011 and at the time teachers wanted the government to effect a 100 per cent salary increment and improve their working conditions. The strike was led by the Uganda National Teachers Union. Since then, smaller strikes have been organised to fight for the welfare of teachers.

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