Teachers take centre stage at educational social dialogues in Uganda

12 December 2017

UNESCO supports the Government of Uganda through the CapED Programme to develop a framework for social dialogue on teacher issues and to organize regular social dialogues at regional and national levels. 

Two sub-regional social dialogues were held in Mbale and Gulu for the Eastern and Northern Regions of Uganda on the 14th and 16th of November 2017. Approximately 250 teachers, local government and ministry officials, private sector representatives and development partners participated. The events, which were organized by the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES), in collaboration with Uganda National Teacher Union (UNATU) with the support of Uganda’s CapED programme, allowed teachers to discuss the key role they play to achieve inclusive and equitable quality education, to identify strategies to improve performance and to celebrate World Teachers Day 2017.

Social dialogues and teachers

One major objective of the social dialogues is to empower teachers and give them a voice. A female teacher from the Eastern Region reflected that, “This is my first time attending a social dialogue. I liked it. It lets us bring our views - that means including teachers in the policy strategy and solving the problems that they have in their schools”. When asked the difference between this dialogue and previous meetings, she answered, “the attitude, knowing more about what a teacher is required to do and learning more about policy. Now I can sit down and discuss about my rights, really going through the matters with the knowledge that I have learned.”

Indeed, teachers are centre stage at these dialogues, leading the discussion on salary issues, fairness and their need of professional growth, community appreciation and other aspects that help hold teachers accountable. UNATU and the MoES recorded their concerns and ideas for strategic solutions. The dialogues also served as a platform for information and knowledge sharing. The MoES presented the latest draft of the National Teacher Policy, which was developed with the support of CapED. The National Teacher Policy addresses the integration of ICT in teacher education, as well as the Teacher Motivation Framework.

Performance and accountability

Participants discussed the root causes of issues that affect school performance. Poverty was a top cause. Teachers are concerned about students who come to school with empty stomachs and the fact that many teachers cannot afford adequate meals either. “My students said ‘teacher, I am hungry.’ How could I blame them for a bad performance? They cannot concentrate. A starving child cannot be taught,” said a female primary school teacher from the Northern Region. 

Other factors influencing teachers' motivation and performance are recruitment, deployment and promotion. Teachers wish to have transparent and clear procedures and rules, which are linked to issues of political influence and corruption. During the social dialogue held in Mbale, a male head teacher asked, “how can you teach students about integrity when integrity is not practiced? Look at the education sector - pre-service teachers cheat in the exams and diplomas, teachers cheat in evaluations, officials cheat in promotions, and students cheat in schools.”

School leadership is another key factor. Participants argued that many headmasters in Uganda are not competent in administrative and financial management and education planning, whilst good teachers tend to move to 'model schools'. “Leadership is different from management. It is about assuring and improving quality, accountability and motivation of a school and the teachers serving there,” emphasized Professor Joseph Oonyu from Makarere University.

Teachers appreciate that qualifications, being equipped and up-skilled are crucial for school performance. During the dialogue, they called for sufficient and fair opportunities for continuous professional development. “We need to learn about new teaching methods and pedagogy. We don't want to be left behind by our students,” said one teacher from the Eastern Region.

Women in teaching

Female teachers' made up about half of participants. Three of them who attended the meeting in Gulu brought their infants. “I feel privileged to participate in this social dialogue. But it is not easy. I have to find a babysitter who will take care of my baby.” Said one teacher with a five-month old daughter, she added that, “sometimes people tell me that she is already in the hospital while I am teaching in the classroom. This is the biggest challenge that affects my performance, but it is not avoidable.”

She is also faced with salary problems, rent issues due to the lack of staff quarters and challenges teaching at her level due to traditional ideas that consider girls' education as a waste of money and time. In spite of that, she has never doubted her career; “I think it is my inborn feeling to be a teacher. I am always being proud.”

Another teacher, who attended the social dialogue with her 50-day old infant, had not received her salary in five months. Her primary concern was that once the 60-working-day maternity leave was over she would have to return to teach and wants the government to extend maternity leave to 90 working days.

The way forward

Everyone has a role to play to improve performance and accountability. Participants came up with strategies at school, district and national levels. These strategies start with government action including: harmonizing teachers' salary and guaranteeing the timeliness of payment, providing adequate continuous professional development opportunities for teachers, ensuring teachers' participation in education planning, enhancing school leadership and endorsing and implementing the National Teacher Policy.

After the conclusion of the social dialogue held in Mbale, a teacher said, “I think it is going to be better. Because the discussion now is more detailed, and we talk about our concerns with no fear of being sent away of job.” UNATU plans to hold follow-up meetings with the participants in 2018, which requires the mobilization of more resources.

Institutionalization of social dialogue is one of the key components of the CapED Programme in Uganda. IICBA provides technical support to the development of a framework for social dialogues on teachers' issues, as well as to the other CapED interventions such as the formulation of the new National Teacher Policy, Continuous Professional Development Framework, Quality Assurance Framework for Teacher Education and more.

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