Op-Ed: Teachers’ strike pushes Uganda to re-count learning losses in public schools! Can the “two elephants” give a chance to Uganda’s future generation?

It is now the 2nd week since Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU) announced industrial action and asked teachers to boycott their working stations which have definitely affected learners more than teachers. In the past 1 week, I have visited together with colleagues over 80 public primary schools in Kayunga, Mayuge, and Namutumba and witnessed closed classrooms with no learning activities which in school has left learners as the biggest losers.

In essence, public education is facing yet another disruption even before recovering from the long-term effects of Covid-19 schools’ closure which negatively impacted the education sector in Uganda and many global economies.

Recent statistics indicate that 80.3% of the over 15 million learners in Uganda are in public schools as compared to the 19.7% of learners who are in private schools. This implies that the ongoing teachers’ strike affects learning most in all public schools.

As a passionate educationist representing the views of my colleagues in the sector and indeed many Ugandans, I would liken this to another “Covid-19 variant” that has pushed the country to recount learning losses with far-reaching effects on academic learning outcomes of children in the upcoming national examinations and progress performance assessments.

I also would like to observe that, the current failure by UNATU and Government to agree on the mutual ground is like the common metaphor of “two elephants fighting and the grass suffers”. In this case, children are the “grass” that suffers in the form of losing learning.

Moreover, Covid-19 pushed the country to review and adopt an abridged curriculum as a catch-up plan to recover from the 2 years of learning losses occasioned by school closures which squarely affected public schools most especially in rural areas. Similarly, the ongoing industrial action affects learning in public schools. Now, before I appreciate the position of the contending parties, my question is; why can’t the “two elephants” trade-off their differences and give chance to Uganda’s next generation?

Mind you, on the 17th of June 2022, the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) released a press statement reiterating that examinations for candidate classes this year shall be based on an abridged curriculum as directed by the Ministry of Education and Sports. Therefore, the continued industrial action affects content delivery and coverage of the abridged curriculum which eventually impacts learners’ academic outcomes and final grades in the upcoming national examinations.

Having said that, I would like to acknowledge that UNATU’s actions and efforts towards rationalizing or enhancing teachers’ salaries over time is highly commendable as it partly addresses teacher motivation concerns. At the same time, the government’s recent call for an end to the industrial action to allow a phased salary enhancement demonstrates willingness amidst budget constraints, aware that the economy is yet to recover from Covid-19 shocks.

However, the meeting between the government and UNATU leadership which was presided by the President saw both parties failing to agree and to date, learners in public schools are not able to continue with their lessons.

I, therefore, make a desperate call for the government, UNATU, all education partners in the country, and the global actors who are concerned about the future of our country to exercise diplomatic and consensus-building approaches to arrive at an immediate solution so that teachers resume teaching such that learners can stay on course in pursuit of their academic careers.

Finally, I would like to cite a few countries that have managed teacher motivation and partly realized dramatic shifts in the quality of their education. Finland, Sweden, and Singapore are some countries with the best quality of education in the world.

Their teacher remuneration is pegged to teacher accountability on learning outcomes of students, teachers are motivated by higher pay, accorded distinguished teacher status or prestige with the highest qualification for one to be a teacher, and strong teacher unions.

Similarly, teachers enjoy fully paid professional development courses annually and have a structured mentorship program on first posting. Teachers with outstanding performance in academics and co-curricular activities get bonuses and other stipends for computer training and research.

Kenya is one of the East African countries that is on track in implementing its teacher motivation policy and Uganda can pick learnings for sustainable teacher motivation beyond salary enhancement.

The writer is Head of Programs at Teach For Uganda
David Moses Okello
okellodm@gmail.com

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