4 July 2011

Uganda: Local Teachers Still Leave for Greener Pastures

Mr Wasswa Mubarak, 26, graduated from Kampala International University in 2008 with a Bachelor's degree in Education. He had hoped to get employed immediately, given the fact that there are many teaching vacancies, especially in government schools. But this turned out to be a nightmare.

Wasted efforts

In the first two government schools where he taught, he felt like his efforts were wasted because he couldn't get on the pay roll for two years.

Although he later secured another job in a private school in Makindye, a city suburb, it was on a temporary basis and couldn't fetch much. He continued with the search for a reasonable pay package in vain, despite writing several applications.

"I had no option but to try elsewhere across the border.Good enough, one of my former course mates was already employed in Kigali, Rwanda, and he invited me to join him," says Wasswa who left the country a couple of months ago.

While on a home visit last week, Wasswa, who is upbeat about his new job, says although he teaches in a school outside Kigali town, he earns four times more than what he used get while still in Kampala.

"In fact, I used to get Shs190,000 per month but now I earn Shs800,000 and I only teach for four days in a week," a visibly contented Wasswa says.

Many Ugandan graduates like Wasswa are frustrated and many have opted for greener pastures in Rwanda or Tanzania, where the demand for teachers is high and the pay is better.

In Uganda a secondary school teacher earns about Shs400,000 while teaching in primary schools fetches one about Shs200,000, which many say can't sustain them and their families.

Although the government had proposed a 30 per cent salary increment for teacher in hard-to-reach areas in the 2010/11 national budget, the increment is yet to be effected.

According to Mr Wasswa, teachers who are on high demand in Rwanda are those teaching English and ICT. "I have competencies in teaching English and it became easier for me to get a job in just two days," he says

He says at the school where he teaches, out of the 30 teachers, ten are Ugandans.

The high demand for English teachers is driven by Rwanda's recently passed policy to switch from French to English as the medium of instruction in schools. Recently, the Rwandan government again placed advertisements in Ugandan newspapers inviting applications from teachers of English and hundreds of them are in Rwanda either training English teachers or teaching it in schools.

By promoting English, Rwanda moves in the footsteps of neighbouring countries Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, who already use English as a second language. The hope is that by using English, commercial and cultural ties with neighbouring countries will be strengthened and that Rwanda can also give itself a competitive lift on the regional stage, given the fact that the country is now a member of the East African Community.

Mr John Willy Arinatwe, the chairperson Uganda Principals' Association (UPA), says the 45 primary teachers' colleges annually release at least 8,500 teachers on top of over 4,000 who graduate from universities every year.

Roaming streets

For instance, Makerere University alone churned out 1,570 teachers early this year and many are still roaming city streets searching for jobs in their line of profession. The most challenge scenario is that many schools especially traditional ones shun fresh graduates in favour of experienced teachers.

But Mr Arinatwe says their work as institutions is to train well equipped teachers and the onus is on the individuals and government to look for jobs.

"Our work is to ensure that we bring the best out of our students and we leave the rest to the State to create jobs for its citizens. If they fail to get jobs , the skills attained at the college also still enable one to start up something for a living," he says.

He says graduate teachers can as well venture into non-teaching jobs that require skills acquired in teacher training, such as banking, public relations and social work and administration.

"What majority of the graduates forget is that one can do something else as he waits for what he studied for. This gives one more exposure, which makes one more employable," he says.

Mr John Agaba, the commissioner for secondary education, says the government cannot stop those seeking greener pastures. "Not all teachers can be employed by the government. In fact, it is good for those who fail to get employment here to seek for it across the borders because it is good for them and the government," he adds.

However, Mr Agaba insists that many who leave are those teaching arts subjects, which are taught by many in Uganda. "We seriously need science teachers and I strongly doubt whether they are among those going to other countries. Those ones could be teaching, Luganda, Commerce or History, because the supply is more than the demand," he said.

Mr Agaba says the ministry is currently partnering with some universities to assist teachers who specialise in arts subjects to acquire additional skills in entrepreneurship and physical education, which are the latest competitive subjects.

According to the government's latest headcount report, there are only 5,477 science teachers out of 33,484 in schools implementing free secondary education.

Although the Ministry of Education admits that many Ugandan teachers are leaving the country, it does not have any statistics on the number of teachers who could have crossed over to other countries over the years.

"We don't really have the figures because they don't go through us. We train them and later hear that they have left the country," Mr Agaba explained.

The commissioner says the ministry preferres to have all the teachers on the payroll, but due to financial constraints, they consider those they can pay for their wages.

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