Open letter to Alex Kakooza, Permanent Secretary, Education Ministry; teachers’ exploitation in private schools, has been on, way before COVID-19

Reference is made to your letter, dated, May 18, 2020, under the theme, “Payment of Staff During the CoViD-19 Lockdown Period”, in which you directed all proprietors, directors, and heads of private schools and other education institutions to pay their staff, in accordance with the Ministry of Education and Sports guidelines for staff employment.

“My attention has been drawn to various reports that teachers and workers in education institutions, especially the privately owned institutions, are not being paid their due salaries”, the letter reads, in part.

Ahead of delving into any detail in this correspondence, I wish to draw your attention to, basically two things: First, is the responsibility of the Education Ministry, in as far as, managing private schools and other education institutions.

Article (4) of the Education Act, says, “The responsibility of government in private education institutions shall be to ensure that private education institutions conform to the rules and regulations governing the provision of education services in Uganda”.

In your opinion, as the Permanent Secretary, are you convinced beyond doubt, that this responsibility has been fulfilled, even quarter-way? Secondly, we need to also acquaint ourselves with the meaning of salary. Salary, in simple terms, relates to the annual reward for professional labour, broken down in twelve equal monthly payments.

Based on this definition, can we conclude that staff in private education institutions are paid salary? By and large, the Education Ministry has TOTALLY failed out on its constitutional obligation of regulating, directing, controlling, and influencing business in private schools and other education institutions. Move on,  along with me, as I, “duc in altum”, i.e., dig deeper into this assertion. First and foremost, the Ministry of Education guidelines for staff employment in private schools, were simply drafted, and left on paper.

Their worth, is yet to be realized. “As you are aware, government is paying teachers and other public service workers their full salaries during the lockdown.

The Ministry of Education and Sports guidelines for staff employment in private schools and institutions, guideline, No. 5 (9), provides that school management shall pay the full time staff during both school term and school holidays. This is, therefore, to remind you that you are required to pay your employees during the lockdown period in accordance with the Employment Act, as per the agreed employment contracts”, the letter continues to say. I wish this guideline can be implemented, teachers plight, will, undoubtedly, be realized. Unfortunately, like earlier noted, these guidelines, good as they are, were drafted, spiral bound, and locked up in someone’s file curbin somewhere.

Teachers in private schools have been exploited, east, west, north, south, and centre, in the presence of the Education Ministry. First and foremost, many school directors, hardly issue their staff with employment contracts, making it extremely difficult for the latter, to even seek legal redress, once the worst gets to the worst.

A few who agree to give their staff employment contracts, do so, with stringent terms and conditions, drafted therein. Left with no option, the teacher is compelled to sign the contract. Apart from institutional private education institutions, such as those owned and operated by the Catholic Church, it is very rare to find a private school, with uniform “salaries”, even where teachers, are equal in everything. According to Juma Mwamura, the general secretary of the Uganda Private Teachers’ Union (UPTU), private education institutions, more so, the lower levels of secondary and primary, might not find it easy to pay staff, given the fact that the private sector is largely managed informally, with a big number of teachers  and instructors working without appointment letters. Surely, if this is true (and, I strongly believe it is), then, it is very unfortunate! Since when did we start operating education institutions, as kiosks, bars, or stalls in St. Bbalikudembe (Owino) market?

This matter should be investigated further, and appropriate action taken. Whoever is operating an education institution, under the table, i.e., informally, should have their operations, indefinitely suspended, until such a time, when they have put in place whatever is necessary for them to operate formally. In fact, because of the absence of a written employment contract,  one’s bargaining power,  as the case, in the private sector, stands out to be among the key drivers of reward for labour in private education institutions. The other, of course, being one’s loyalty to the school proprietor, director, or head teacher. In many privately owned education institutions, specifically, private schools, you have to be a close relative to the director, in order to get a deserving pay, compared to the rest. The biggest percentage of private schools pay teachers for only nine (9) months a year, as these do not pay their staff during the holidays, as spelt out by the guidelines. For this reason, teachers have to miss out on the December and January payments. In May and August, i.e., term I and II holidays, respectively, teachers receive half-way their monthly pay. Despite the fact that we are almost mid-way the year, I can guarantee with certainty, there are several teachers out there who were last paid in November, 2019. In fact, there are even those who have not been paid for a couple of months, if not years. “Good morning sir. Thank you so much for your good posts about education. I am Mugisha Sam (not real name), a teacher from Rukungiri, and presently working in a private school. Since the year started, I have received salary for only the month of February. I am currently undergoing a lot of suffering in this lockdown, and when I see what the Ministry of Education is doing, I fail to understand. I need your counselling, please”.

Richard Ajok (not real name), a teacher from  Soroti, but currently teaching in one secondary private school in Kamuli has this to say: “I want to thank you, my brother Jonathan Kivumbi for the concerns you have always raised to the Education Minister. I am a teacher from Soroti district, but currently teaching in a private school in Kamuli district, but I am really ‘suffocating beyond suffocating’, due to the suffering brought about by this lockdown, and yet there isn’t any sign of receiving payment from school. You can imagine, yesterday, we ate sugar canes, with my family for both lunch and supper. Kindly, tell the Minister that we teachers in private schools need some food relief, as well”. The situation is not any different in international schools. “Let international schools pay workers. These schools make a lot of profits. Please assist us and make a follow-up on some of these schools. They should pay us. People are bad off”, said Kityo Jacob (not real name), a teacher teaching in one of the most prominent international schools in Kampala. It is common practice to find teachers in private schools being paid in installments. Balance carried forward, is a term well-known to a number of educators working for privately owned education institutions. Even in situations where teachers own personal bank accounts, some school owners have gone ahead to effect payments using either mobile money, or the cash payment system.

Private Schools

Ministry of Education PS Alex Kakooza (PHOTO/File)

This has given them green light to deprive teachers of their National Security Social Fund (NSSF) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE). Arguably, by and large, among the key sectors that defraud government of NSSF and PAYE, is the education sector. To make matters worse, many private schools deduct this money (NSSF and PAYE), from the staff salary, but never remit it, to the relevant authorities. I implore the Education Ministry, to do the needful, so as to bring to an end, this kind of exploitation, lest we are ready to see many teachers suffer in their old age. While government is tirelessly working on salary enhancement for the public service, including teachers, the reverse is happening in private schools.

We still have private schools paying teachers, an equivalent of a house maid, say, shs. 50,000/- a month. In secondary schools, graduate science-based teachers are currently earning a seven-digit pay check of shs. 2M per month, but I can assure you that in private schools, the opposite is happening. I am yet to find out if there could be any private secondary school that pays its teachers that much. You must be working for one of the most highly recognized schools, countrywide, to even get a quarter of that pay. There are several secondary school teachers out there, earning far below their counterparts in government-owned/aided primary schools. Interestingly, while this is happening, governmemt still has high hopes of bringing about the desired socio-economic transformation of the country, with specific reference to the promotion of science and technology.

Let me make this categorically clear, regardless of how much government rewards scientists, specifically science-based teachers, the achievements of this whole arrangement, will be extremely insignificant, if the payment for teachers in private schools is not streamlined. I strongly advise government to set a threshold (minimum wage), below which teachers are not supposed to be paid. In my opinion, private school proprietors should be compelled to pay their teachers, an equivalent of what governmemt pays. One is at liberty to pay above the public service’s  pay, but not below. This way, efficiency and productivity in private schools, will be enhanced.

A number of Private schools proprietors behave as if they are simply doing teachers a favour, to recruit them in their schools, forgetting that the two, actually, compliment each other. “In reality schools that have sound financial systems have saved a lot of money during the CoViD-19 holiday. Some have even gone ahead to do construction, but left their teachers to starve throughout the entire lockdown. It is through the teachers efforts that schools are able to generate super-normal profits, but instead of motivating their staff, by paying them well, our bossses think otherwise. Let’s get serious”, said Peter Mukasa (not real name), a teacher teaching in one of the most highly recognized schoolsgovernmentuntry.

Johnson Masika (not real name), a teacher in eastern Uganda, picks up from Peter’s argument, and says, “Imagine working for such a director. Those are directors who feel they have just helped you to employ you, forgetting that you are an asset to their school. Some directors are very heartless; with all the food that remained in the store, really, couldn’t they share part of it with staff members”? There is no doubt, the profit motive, and not the creation of a tangible social impact, anymore, is now the key driving factor in the education sector. Slowly, but steadily, this is equally taking centre-stage in many publicly owned education institutions.

School proprietors, including their closet family members are emerging lots and lots of wealth, while teachers who enable them to realize this wealth, are deprived of even the little pay they deserve. To effectively safeguard against their wealth, school proprietors have gone ahead to replace the mandatory school management committees and schools’ boards of governors, in both primary and secondary schools, respectively, with boards of directors, to which their spouses and children, are part.

Upon death of the school proprietor, the school is, simply passed onto the heir, the deceased’s family, or the board of trustees, irrespective of whether any of the aforementioned has any knowledge, skill, and expertise of managing a school, or not. Today, selling/buying a school in Uganda, might be easier for some people, than buying a goat, cow, or bunch of matooke. There are people, out there who are always looking out for schools, at the verge of collapse so that they can be in position to buy them off. The vendors sell off the premises, including the students; just imagine, someone selling of people’s children, as though they are selling of charcoal, firewood, or a sack of cassava. In the process, teachers in such schools, automatically, have to find employment elsewhere, since the new owner now, prefers working with his/her team. To the extreme, many even have to miss out on their arrears, especially in situations where the buyer doesn’t buy off the seller’s liabilities, or if he/she, instead buys off particular liabilities. All this is happening in the face of the concerned Ministry. An education institution is a principal centre of reference, even after one’s demise. For this reason, I strongly wish to implore Parliament, to enact a law, that streamlines the selling/buying of education institutions. Alternatively, government should take over management of such education institutions.

Private schools hire and fire teachers, the way they so wish. To many private school proprietors, directors, and head teachers, a teacher’s performance is measured in terms of the number of first grades they (teachers), produce, in the final/UNEB examinations. Short of this, you are shown the exit. While many people are chanting and jubilating after results are released, others, specifically, teachers, are always worried for their jobs. It is common practice to find teachers being grilled and roasted like chicken, by school heads, whenever UNEB results are released.

Teachers are turned into more, or less nursery school going children, at this point in time. Indeed, many are told to try their chances elsewhere, after failing to hit the school target. You must count yourself lucky today to teach in any of these top-notch schools, countrywide, today, if you are not a UNEB examiner. These schools do whatever it takes to ensure that their teachers take part in the management, especially setting and marking, of national exams.

I am reliably informed that while applying for a teaching slot in most of these schools (if not, all), one must attach their UNEB invitation letter as either a setter, or marker.

Those doing both, of course, have an added advantage compared to their counterparts engaged in only one activity.

Finding a secondary school teacher with a load fewer than 30 lessons, is not news. A teacher can, for instance, teach all the Chemistry and Biology lessons, from S.1 to S.6, single-handedly, and at the end of the day walk away, with a reward as low as shs. 300,000/- after 30 days. Public holidays and weekends, including Sundays, in most private schools (if not, all), are things for the past, as teachers are required to report for work, at no extra pay, just like any other normal working day. Missing of a lesson, or any school activity, sometimes even with a genuine reason, tantamount to salary deduction, and to the extreme, termination.

The adage, “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”, well suits private schools, more so, those at the secondary level. This is because some teachers are given special treatment, unlike others.

Private schools have been translated into commercial centres and the best the Ministry has done, time immemorial, is to praise and clap the proprietors. Regardless of how unrealistic a particular monetary programme is, teachers are charged with the responsibility of convincing parents effect payment for that programme.

The danger is, even after all this, many still go unpaid. Female teachers in many of these private schools, are denied their constitutional right of 60-working days paid leave, on giving birth. You must be very lucky for you to get maternity leave for even two weeks from the date of delivery. In fact, the arrangement in most of these private schools, is that, the teacher in question, is required to find someone fill up her position in her absence, at her cost. Surprisingly, none of the three female ministers who have been at the helm of this Ministry, has found it necessary to fix this problem. Hopefully, being the mother to the nation, the current minister, will address the problem, head-on, before she might be given another assignment by the appointing authority.

The biggest percentage of school heads in private schools are, actually rubber stamp heads. Their powers are simply limited to signing of school circulars, including other internal and external correspondences such as memos and students’ suspension letters. So, because these do not sign staff pay checks, their control over teachers, is extremely limited.

To the extreme, some of these school heads are usually left out in the entire exercise of hiring/firing staff. While school proprietors are at liberty to monitor and evaluate the progress of their investments, they should let schools run and operate in accordance with the the law.

To my fellow teachers, I am strongly advising you to be assertive and practice the art of humility, as we strive to achieve our worth. Assertiveness is viewed as the open and appropriate expression of thought and feelings, with due regard to the rights of others. Being assertive implies understanding your rights and sticking up for them without being aggressive. On the contrary, aggression is an attempt to get one’s way, no matter what.

Evidence available indicates that everyone has three basic rights: That is, the right to refuse; the right to request; the right to correct the wrong. Self-assertion involves standing up for these rights by speaking out on your behalf. Likewise, the leadership at the Education Ministry should exercise the power of humility. Principles do not mean much when they are merely words on paper. Sure, leadership rhetoric might make sense, and even serve as sage advice to those listening, but for real progress to occur, over time, leaders from the top of the organization, down, have to walk the talk. It is not right for one to believe, and also make each one of us believe that the problems of teachers in private schools began with the recent covid-19 era, for these have been on for decades, interestingly, in the face of the Ministry.

How plausible is the Permanent Secretary’s directive of having staff members fully paid at a time when almost every organization, specifically those in the private sector, in Uganda and beyond, is down-sizing and deducting staff salaries?

If even private hospitals that remained operational throughout the entire lockdown period have had to down-size and also cut their staff salaries, so as to remain afloat, what about education institutions that have not received even a single penny in their bank accounts, for close to 3-months now? We have seen a couple of ministerial directives which have been passed before, in fact, some of them even non-monetary, and have not been implemented. What mechanisms is the Ministry going to put in place to ensure that this very directive is adhered to? I will be the happiest if a win-win situation, in implementing this directive is attained. For, truth is, while teachers and staff, for private education institutions, in general deserve remuneration even during this period, school proprietors, directors, and head teachers, need to be listened to. Rather than focus at this short period, the Ministry should consider solving the bigger problem, for teachers problems did not start overnight. These have been for years and years. I strongly implore the MoE&S to fully adopt the Toyota Production System (TPS), in its day-to-day operations, as this will go a long way in solving the bigger problem. This system should be implemented all employees, regardless of their position, purposely to eliminate waste, point out problems and weaknesses within the system, and make firsthand observations, and recommendations for continuous improvement. The “genchi genbutsu”, a Japanese term which literally means, go to the source to establish facts, so as to make correct decisions, build consensus, and achieve results in the required time, once applied effectively, will equally be invaluable in addressing the teachers’ concerns. By going to the source, you are able to value practical experience over theoretical knowledge. Ideally, you must see the problem, to know the problem.

Jonathan Kivumbi, Educationist. 0770880185/0702303190. For God and My Country!

CC: The President of the Republic of Uganda

The Speaker of Parliament

The First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports

The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs

The Minister of Gender, Labour, and Social Development

All school proprietors, directors, and head teachers.

All teachers, parents, and students.


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