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Teachers on the move

By Flavia Nassaka

New transfer policy shakes traditions, offers opportunities

Godfrey Kombi has been a happy physics and chemistry teacher at St. Leos College Kyegobe in Fort Portal for the last five years. Now, however, he is a worried man after the ministry of Education started implementing a new policy requiring teachers to be transferred after serving at a particular school for five years.  Kombi who made five years at Kyegobe in February, says the new policy is hard on teachers.

It’s not fair to say it’s mandatory for one to move every five years,” he told The Independent, “This means teachers are always going to be on a move.”

He says he is aware of the existing policy under which employees of the government agree to serve in any part of the country and can, therefore, be deployed and re-deployed whenever there is need.

But he is anxious because, apart from being a teacher, Kombi who is his family’s bread winner has bought an acre of land in Bukwali a neighboring village to the school. On it, he grows tomatoes, Irish potatoes, and cabbages to complement his pay as teacher. He values his garden, which he calls his ‘savior’ since the money he earned from it enabled him to provide for his family even when the government salary failed to come for three months.  He contrasts his `saviour’ garden with his teaching job, which he loves and refers to as a ‘calling’.  Soon, however, he fears he could be forced to choose one against the other – and he does not like that.

“Some of us might have to choose from continuing with the profession or do other personal businesses. Unless they transfer me to schools within Kabarole district,” he says.

He adds: “I can’t risk leaving my garden because no one will supervise it. Besides, in a good season I make more money from farming than school”.

Kombi is not the only teacher facing this dilemma. A 2014 project by the child livelihood improvement NGO, Plan, found that poor pay often forces teachers into taking second jobs and sneaking off to do part-time work such as farming and riding boda-boda; the  motorbikes for hire. Most of these have established businesses in the community where they teach and transferring them will be a major disruption.

But teachers are not the only group that is anxious over the new transfer policy. Parents too are equally worried.  Herbert Mutamba, a father of three says he prefers to take his children to a school where he knows the teachers. He fears that under the new system, his trusted teacher could be transferred to another school.

Problems from the past

In the past, transfers of especially head teachers in top schools have resulted in resistance and confrontation. Some schools administrations have lobbied and in some cases bribed in order to retain the teachers they perceive to be the best.

In December 2013, when the Ministry of Education issued a list of transferred teachers, some refused to report to their new work stations for the first term and other others sought protection against the transfers from the courts of law.

In one prominent case, the Church of Uganda dragged Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) to court to restrain it from transferring of Brother Edward Bukenya who had been head master of St. Mary’s Kisubi. He had been at the school for 15 years. The church complained that the transfer was made without consultation and rejected the new head teacher who had been posted there.

The Education Service Commission, which is the ministry of Education department charged with deployment of staff, threatened disciplinary action against those blocking the transfer. In reality, however, it did not have a solid reason for the transfer as there was no policy on transfers. The new ministry of Education policy aims to change that. It will be checking over stay, hopefully improve education standards, and make learning outcomes more equitable as teachers; good and bad, are regularly shuffled around. Currently, teachers can stay in the same school for as long as twenty years or more. This is most common in so-called `traditional’ schools which are older popular schools where students score high grades in national exams. Teachers and head teachers consider teaching in such schools prestigious and refuse to give up their positions easily. The new policy aims to change that.

“With the new policy, any teacher who stays at the same school for more than five years is considered to have over stayed,” says Hajji Yusuf Nsubuga, the Director Basic and Secondary Education and one of the framers and implementers of the new policy.

“Reviewing teacher placement and posting every five years will help create a level ground for all schools as good teachers will be rotating through both good and trailing schools and in the process students will be benefiting,” he says.  Nsubuga says any teacher who does not like the transfer will have a right to appeal.

He says the ministry of Education is also considering re-validating the appointment of all heads and deputy heads of government-owned schools. The objective is to enhance the quality of both learning and teaching. He says the ministry will be checking whether the school heads have the right qualifications.

While the policy may be good for ordinary level teachers who handle their students from senior one to four and get an additional year for evaluation, it may be difficult to monitor them through A-level since after five years one will be moved to another school.

According to a circular issued by the ministry, teachers high on the list of transfer are those that do not meet specific workloads. This is a sign that they are being underutilised. Head teachers of secondary schools are required to have a work load of six periods per week, the deputies a minimum of 12 periods per week, and secondary school teachers  a minimum of 24 periods. This is irrespective of whether they are teaching in Ordinary or Advanced level.

Huzaifa Mutazindwa, the Director of Education Standards at the Ministry of Education, says the transfers will serve the country better.

“Teachers should welcome the initiative because it is likely to improve education standards,” he told The Independent, “Transfer is good psychologically because by human nature as one stays in place for so long it becomes business as usual leading to decline in focus.”

Financial implications

But James Tweheyo, the secretary-general of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU), says although the intentions of the policy may be good, the ministry of Education might, in fact, find it difficult to implement it.

He lists a number of likely constraints; including their financial implication.

“It‘s tricky to keep the teacher you don’t pay in time on the move,” he says.

He says under the terms of service, a transferred teacher is supposed to be given transport to the new station and a relocation allowance. Tweheyo says the ministry might not be able to offer these requirements.  But the government statement announcing the new transfer policy issued by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education Ministry, Rose Nassali, says going forward transfer of teachers will only be effected after confirmation from the districts that there is money to cater for their salaries.

Tweheyo also says the ministry of Education will also face problems in schools that are co-owned by government and private entities.  He cites a head teacher who has stayed at St. Mary’s Kisubi even when the ministry transferred him because the founders still need him there.

He says to improve standards, the ministry needs to focus on staff organization not on duration at a school.

But some teachers are welcoming the new transfer policy.  Chotilda Nakate, is the Headmistress of Trinity College Nabbingo, one of the so-called prestigious traditional schools. She has been in the school for the last 13 years and would be expected to oppose any transfer. Instead, she told The Independent, she sees a lot of sense in the policy. She says when head teachers are moved, they will be compelled to work smarter.  “Basically head teachers are obliged to make strategic plans which can be implemented by anybody else even when the initiator has been transferred,” she says, ““Results will only be attained using effective enforcement tactics.”

She advises that research be done on how stakeholders and other founding bodies like churches and mosques can be involved in the enforcement of the policy.

Nakate says no teacher is born with the skill but rather competence is built by the administrators. She says with the policy in place, more competent teachers will be trained. This will lead to equitable standards between poor and good performing schools, she says.

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