DAVID MAFABI: Yes, Arts teachers lost in the strike, the president won but who will suffer?

A photo combo showing Unatu secretary general Filbert Baguma (L) and President Museveni (R) (PHOTO/FILE)

MBALE- The Uganda National Teachers Union (Unatu) called off the nearly 20-day arts teachers’ strike that had paralysed learning for children in public schools from 15 June.

The teachers were demanding a uniform salary increment following the government’s decision to raise the salaries of their science counterparts by 300 percent.

Yes, Mr Museveni, in Monday’s meeting, reiterated his earlier position of gradually enhancing the salaries of all civil servants but guided by a science-led strategy.

“This does not mean we have forgotten others, but we are choosing to prioritise the few and others can come later. We must finish one problem at a time. While the government acknowledges the issues raised by the Arts teachers, we are also aware of salary issues from other workers; the army, police officers, etc, who are equally important to the growth and development of this country,” he said.

Mr Filbert Baguma, the Unatu General Secretary, confirmed that they had called off the strike but would continue engaging the government over the matter and asked the teachers to go back to class, yes go back to class.

Although it was clear that the Arts teachers lost the battle, Mr Baguma insists that the strike was not in vain since it has attracted attention to the teachers’ plight.

It is also clear that the president came out victorious by pushing the Arts teachers to end the strike and get back to class to teach, Yes the teachers will go to class but will they teach? This is the question.

I want to state here clearly that it is one thing for the teachers to go to class but it is another for them to teach and therefore given the low morale and less motivation of the Arts teachers now, our children are in danger.

Mr President unless you are going to deploy inspectors in all schools across the country, there might not be teaching across the country save for the teachers going to class to just occupy learners just because they are not motivated.

While I was in O’level, I know of a teacher who would come and engage us in unworthy stories like talking about invents in history and not necessary teach, this is what our learners are likely to go through until a remedy is found for these teachers.

Yes, the primary and secondary school teachers returned to work after more than two weeks on strike – proving that the struggle for decent pay for teachers, and quality education and facilities for Ugandan students, still continues.

But for sure how do you expect an arts teacher to see his colleague get a salary enhancement of over 300 percent, and he remains happily working in the same class, same workload, and same working environment?

There is a discrimination created by government by almost 300% between Science teachers and Arts teachers, and there is already a problem here, our dear Minister of Education who is allegedly a good bible reader should give us lessons on this: In book of Proverbs 22:2 in The Holy Bible says, I quote; “When the rich and poor meet together, the rich despise the poor for their poverty and stupidity, and the poor envy the rich for their prosperity and arrogance.

Our government should also note that teachers make up a vital part of the workforce in any progressing society and without their influence and input; there can’t be a proper avenue for learning and knowledge advancement.

We ought to know that there have been volumes of research devoted to examining the critical variables in education and when all is said and done, the most important factor in your child’s formal education is his/her teacher irrespective of the level.

I want to state here that the children in schools belong to everyone, including the teachers, and that they “shouldn’t be like chess pieces to be played with” Let us motivate our teachers rather than intimidating them to get back to class.

A paper by Jeng Liu [University of Korea] “Does wage inequality affect labor productivity” says inequality affects attendance, productivity and the social fabric of teaching in schools, and this thus reveals impacts on education productivity.

The paper adds that when people feel that they are underpaid relative to what is average for people with comparable human capital and demographic characteristics, they automatically reduce their work efforts.

I know that the science salary enhancement is hinged on science and innovation, with the NDP III for example focusing on enhanced value addition in agriculture, tourism, minerals, ICT, oil and gas, and knowledge that has high potential to generate employment and positive multiplier effect on other sectors.

But statistics from our national examination by UNEB every year have indicated that the failure rate in sciences is still high so there is need to rethink how long it will take well-remunerated science teachers to lower the 45 percent failure rate to less than 10 percent that is registered in non-science subjects.

True we have very few A’level Science students, but will the salary enhancement for the science teachers become the bullet for raising the proportion of science students at ‘A’ level from the current 10 percent across the country?

Our government should have handled questions of absorption capacity of tertiary institutions vis-à-vis the expected boom of science students, nurturing of students into innovators, design of science courses that are relevant to the needs of the population and reversing the attrition rate of science teachers quitting the profession than merely enhancing their salaries by 300%.

Ms Emily Breza, [Havard University] in a paper Morale effects of pay inequality says…Monetary incentives (and therefore inequality) can backfire, especially within teams. Literature on social incentives has shown that workers are sensitive to their co-workers’ wages and dislike pay differences, which can undermine effort.

Mr President the Arts teachers are demoralized and therefore are likely not to teach although they will appear in class daily take it leave it.

I want you to note that your salary enhancement for science teachers only has adverse effects on the well-being of Arts teachers and that aggregating all these situations leads to ambiguous predictions regarding a society-wide relationship between inequality and efficiency.

A teacher who asked for anonymity accused the government of neglecting teachers yet it has money to cater for luxuries like buying expensive cars for speaker of Parliament, citing the hefty perks accorded Ugandan parliamentarians who each takes home money that could be pay more than ten teachers.

William Arthur says and I quote; “the mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires” because our teachers are demoralised, they are likely to turn into mediocre teachers who will just tell and our children will be at a loss.

The government of Uganda should learn that promoting equal pay for work of equal value, or pay equity, is a fundamental right at work, that is enshrined in the Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100), among the widest ratified of ILO Conventions.

It is important to note that government school teachers are competent, dedicated, and caring but at this point, however, our children will have a teacher who falls short in some aspect of teaching just because his morale is down.

I know that teachers will stay positive for their students even when things can seem grim because a great teacher always has compassion for their students, understanding of their students’ personal lives, and appreciation for their academic goals and achievements but for how long will this last?

It is true that usually when it comes to asking for better compensation, teachers often feel they’re in a no-win situation and many are beginning to explore ways they can take on more responsibilities; this explains why many good teachers have left the profession.

And one of the most important parts of teaching is having dedication; teachers not only listen, but also coach and mentor their students, they are able to help shape academic goals and are dedicated to getting their students to achieve them, they have patience for their students and are understanding when a concept isn’t taking but now with their morale down, what do you expect?

Like Science teachers, Arts teachers throughout the height of lockdowns, many also continued to provide in-person education to children of key workers under miserable conditions, the cost of living has gone high with inflation across the country, there is need to invest in all our teachers and prioritize them in global education recovery efforts so that every learner has access to a qualified and well motivated supported teacher.

And from a policy and practice perspective, we need to understand teacher motivation for several reasons; motivated teachers are more likely to implement educational reforms and less likely to be absent or leave the teaching profession, which results in substantial savings in terms of recruitment and retraining costs.

More importantly, Uganda needs better teachers not necessary science teachers—teachers who are well-prepared, qualified, caring, and motivated, this is true for all children, but particularly true for disadvantaged learners from low-income contexts just because such children are often taught by poorly paid and teachers who have very low levels of motivation.


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