By Stephen Kafeero
Maj. Jessica Alupo is the minister of Education. She spoke to The Independent’s Stephen Kafeero about government plans for ending the incessant teachers’ strikes.
The teachers are calling for your resignation for failure to address their issues. Should we expect it?
The matter of resignation is purely diversionary because the teachers know how the budget is made. It is not made in one day and they know who pays them; which is the ministry of public service. They also know how money is allocated and the ministry of finance is at the forefront of that.
Are they becoming politicians to sit in the appointments committee of parliament to approve or to disapprove ministers? All I am saying is let’s sit down and focus on the welfare of the teachers. Government has supported the collective bargaining agreement which they asked for in the last strike, supported them in starting the teacher’s SACCO with Shs5 billion, supported the payment of science teachers with an increment of 30% which they also asked for and also paying teacher’s in hard to reach places with an allowance which government has continued to pay.
They asked government to send capitation grant on time and government agreed. They asked government to increase the capitation grant from about 7,000 for primary to about 15,000 and for secondary from over 40,000 to about 80,000.
Government is saying that as much as we would like, we can’t increase that. So there are so many issues that want answers but there are few that government hasn’t been able to answer.
What is the ministry going to do about teacher strikes?
We don’t want a situation where we bring a standstill to our education system because we have failed to agree on a single item out of the so many we have fulfilled. We are encouraging teachers to continue negotiating with us and we shall find a solution like we have found for the so many issues that they have been having.
Do you think government is listening and taking care of the problems of the teachers?
Government has absolutely taken care of the interests of the teachers because it is not only about salary increment. It is about enhancing their livelihood in terms of providing accommodation at school which government has now prioritised.
There is no education institution that can be constructed now without a component of teacher’s housing and even those without government is planning to see that they get. So the issue of teachers should be handled holistically and not in piecemeal.
Teachers may be forced to go to class but they cannot be forced to teach. Don’t you think it affects their delivery?
In my view, when teachers are taken through training, they are taken through the ethical code of conduct of teaching. The priority for them should be learners. I wouldn’t think that a teacher who is fully trained from teacher training institution can go and take advantage of a child by being present at school and not give the child his/her due.
They may not do it directly but the distinct lack of motivation affects them?
We have not said that there is no 20% increase. Anyone does other income generating activities. Even me I don’t entirely rely on parliament; I am a farmer of citrus. It is allowed as long as you pay attention first to your job.
Government agreed with the teachers to give them a 20% increase in the second year after an agreement you had but it wasn’t reflected in the budget. Why is this case?
The 20% salary increment did not feature in the budget as teachers expected because the money was put in the energy sector to construct dams and also rural electrification. Money was also put in the transport sector to construct roads and also upgrade others and that is how the education sector came 3rd in terms of hierarchy in the budget of this financial year.
The teachers should not think that the commitment has been withdrawn from them. Government has not retracted the commitment; we are saying that because of energy and roads we can’t do this today, let’s find a way of doing it tomorrow.
But teachers need to survive and are already struggling?
We are appealing to them to continue surviving on the little we have been paying them and also asking the ministry of Finance to pay everybody to cater for inflation including all other low paid civil servants.
What plans does the ministry have for teacher’s welfare?
We are trying to handle the issue of teacher’s welfare in a holistic manner by giving them a SACCO. They can save money and borrow. When we talk about enhancing their livelihood in terms of accommodation for teachers at education institutions, we are making them save their money by not renting and we are also helping them to be available at school at the time when they are required, they also don’t have to stress themselves with transport.
Paying them hard to reach allowances and increasing the pay for science teachers makes them to get motivated in one way or the other. We have operationalised their collective bargaining agreement and if we go on improving their welfare it becomes a holistic approach other than addressing just one issue.
Every year there is a recurrence of strikes in education institutions. Why is government failing to sort out this once and for all?
In public universities, paying them is being harmonised. There is a report now before the Prime Minister which he tasked senior professors in Makerere to make in order to harmonise the payment of staffs in all public universities from the sweepers to academic staff. We are also looking at Public Private Partnership in public universities so that they don’t have to rely heavily on government all the time which is partly the reason why strikes are taking place.
In secondary schools, strikes start over petty things, like lack of adequate food on the plates, electricity shortages and sometimes it is just undisciplined students who fear exams. It is sometimes due to poor management of the schools.
When the students demand for a meeting the management refuses, also the politics in foundation and governing bodies of the schools. The Ministry is planning to take all the head teachers and senior teachers for management training and we have got money from UNESCO already, so that they can be good managers. There is sometimes a big gap where students, parents and teachers are on their own.
Decline in performance has been attributed to government’s failure to review the capitation grant. What do you have to say about this?
We have always wanted to review them except that the resources have not been found to do so.
A child under UPE at the time of inception was to receive over Shs16,000 yet the government only allocates only Shs7,260. Don’t you think that it is negatively impacting the quality of education?
During the inception of UPE, each family was to provide four children but there was no way we could say we are in a universal system when we limit it to only four children yet some families have 12 and want to send them all to school. So we rolled out to everybody. So that has a negative impact on the quality of education but we are working on it.
Also the money sent to schools is not commensurate to their budgets. What are you planning to do about it?
We entered an agreement willingly knowing that schools will facilitate the gap from resources that they generate from other things but we know that the money is not adequate under the circumstances and we have made proposals to government and we think that in the subsequent financial years the matter shall be addressed.
Time seems not to be your ally when it comes to the implementation of the loan scheme for students in higher institutions of learning. Are we likely to see it stall for another year?
The student loan scheme is going to come on board this academic year and we expect that parliament in this session will pass the bill. Although the universities are open, we are not saying it is for people joining the first semester; people in the second will also be able to apply for the loan.
But don’t you think this will limit the intended beneficiaries?
Are you saying that all students going for university education this academic year are all rich? Those who are bright but very poor did not know about the scheme and so they had prepared to join University, when the loan scheme comes into force, we shall find them along the way.
But still don’t you think some will be left out who would have benefitted?
We have money that can take care of those that it will take care of. We don’t think that even the Shs 5 billion will be able to address all the students in need. It will be very ambitious but we know once we start; we shall be getting more money and will be able to address more students gradually.
Wherever they have been implemented, loan schemes have suffered massive defaults from beneficiaries, what unique thing is Uganda doing to ensure that this is mitigated?
We have tried to put in place the law first so that the defaulter knows he has committed a crime. We have also tried to encourage that the people who will take this loan will do courses that are marketable and on demand such that they can employ themselves or be employed by another person.
We are happy that in East Africa we are the last to implement this; we have had the opportunity to benchmark and learn a lot from our neighbors and other countries in the world.
Uganda lacks a proper identification system with the process of issuing National IDS on and off, how are you are you going to track the beneficiaries?
The government is currently exploring the position of having the national identification for everybody but we don’t want to wait until that process is finished. So we shall start with which ever identification and we will use them when they come on board.
There is a high rate of unemployment in Uganda especially among young people. Will government be able to absorb all the beneficiaries for employment?
That is why government is encouraging innovation and skilling. Government is saying that we cannot employ people without empowering them and this is an opportunity to give them skills such that they can employ others.