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What gov’t can do to rescue private school teachers starving during lockdown

Guest Writer

What gov’t can do to rescue private school teachers starving during lockdown

Responsible: The Minister of Education Janet Museveni and her Permanent Secretary Alex Kakooza

Responsible: The Minister of Education Janet Museveni and her Permanent Secretary Alex Kakooza, 2nd right have their work cut out regarding the situation of private teachers across the country

In his letter dated May 18, 2020. to proprietors of private schools in Uganda, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Alex Kakooza reminded the management in private schools of their obligations to pay teachers in accordance with the Ministry of Education and Sports guidelines for staff employment.

The PS’s Letter titled: “Ministry directs educational institutions to pay staff” reads in part that: “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.”

But before 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, is concerned.

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 cabinet somewhere.

Teachers in private schools have been exploited in every sense of the word, 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.

A few who agree to give their staff employment contracts, do so, with stringent terms and conditions. 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, in 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. Balikudembe (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 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 of the workers.

In addition, the biggest percentage of private schools pay teachers for only nine (9) instead of 12 months, contrary to the ministry’s guidelines for private education. Despite the fact that we are almost mid-way the year, thousands of teachers in private schools are starving as they have not been paid for months. The lockdown period has made their situation even worse as they have not way of withholding their labour.

The following testimonies shared with me confirm the plight that teachers are enduring.

“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”.

International schools not any better

The situation is not much better in some of the international schools, as one Jacob Kityo, (not real name) cried out. “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 badly off” said Kityo, one of the teachers in one of the most prominent international schools in Kampala.

It is common practice to find teachers in private schools being paid in instalments. 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.

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 bring this exploitation to an end, 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, UGX50,000/- a month. In secondary schools, graduate science-based teachers are currently earning a seven-digit pay check of UGX2M per month, but I can assure you that in private schools, the opposite is happening. I am yet to find any private secondary school that pays its science 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, government 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 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.

Enforce job security

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.

Standardize work load

Finding a secondary school teacher with a load less than 30 lessons, is news indeed. A teacher can, for instance, teach Chemistry and Biology from S.1 to S.6, single-handedly, and at the end of the month walk away, with a reward as low as UGX300,000/- Government needs to step in by determining the maximum lessons a teacher in any school should be allowed to have. This will further boost quality by ensuring that teachers are efficient.

Uphold female workers rights over maternity leave

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 to stand in for her 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 Janet Museveni, will address the problem, head-on, before she might be given another assignment by the appointing authority.

As many people have noted, COVID-19 can be used as an opportunity to make changes to the way we do things. For the education sector, this is an opportunity to review the review the way private schools operate. Not just in the way they treat teachers, but also the way they are governed.

The role of government in private schools needs to be reviewed as well, to ensure that the government plays a more active role, that not only ensures that enforceable guidelines are implemented.

Let’s use COVID-19 to improve

Although amplified by the COVID-19 lockdown, teachers problems did not start overnight. I strongly implore the MoE&S to fully adopt the Toyota Production System (TPS) in its day-to-day operations. The system is based on the Japanese ideology of “genchi genbutsu”, which means going to the ground to make a first-hand observation, and make recommendations for continuous improvement.

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!

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