The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Striking Teachers Labelled Unpatriotic, 'Bunch of Jokers'

The head of the National Patriotism Secretariat (NPS), Lt Col Henry Masiko, has said teachers, who held a two-day strike this week demanding, among other things, improved pay and working conditions, need to be patriotic and stop behaving like jokers.

Speaking at the Uganda Journalists Association weekly press conference in Kampala on Wednesday, Masiko said teachers should love their country and remember that service should take precedence over wealth.

"Like soldiers, teachers are service providers and if they think they're there to get rich, they are in the wrong place," Masiko said.

"Teachers should emulate soldiers by forming SACCOs in order to have side incomes because, even if the government paid each of them Shs 1m per month, over and above the Shs 540,000 they are demanding, it would still not be enough."

President Museveni formed NPS in 2009 and its first assignments included rallying secondary school students and teachers to be patriotic, to love their country and put the Constitution before everything else, with a view of producing good future nationalists. NPS seeks to have a focal person among the teachers in each secondary school, who sensitizes students and other teachers on issues of nationalism.

NPS' criticism of the strike comes on the heels of accusations by the ministry of Education and Sports that teachers are two-faced. At a press briefing on Monday at the ministry, Education and Sports minister, Jessica Alupo, said: "They seem to have a hidden agenda because they went against their word," Alupo said. "I was shocked to read in the press that the strike is on. This is very hypocritical and unreasonable of teachers".

Alupo thought the strike had been called off following a meeting last week between the teachers and the ministry, after which she had told journalists that the teachers had agreed to cancel the strike as government addresses their demands. Dramatically, however, the Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU) released a statement at the end of the week, disputing Alupo's claims. They called upon all teachers, parents and students to strike on July 16 and 17.

At the press briefing, the minister was clearly miffed. "The time teachers are giving us to meet their demands is abnormal. People need to understand that government does not operate like a private company where decisions are taken in one day," she charged.

The state minister for Sports, Charles Bakkabulindi, was even less diplomatic, ridiculing the five civil society organizations that had teamed up with UNATU. The organizations, under their body, Citizens' Action for Quality Public Education, are: ActionAid International Uganda, Uganda National NGO Forum, Forum for Education NGOs in Uganda, Uganda Joint Christian Council and Uganda Muslim Education Association.

"Who knows these organizations? They could as well be just a bunch of five chaps lousing around. They are misleading teachers so as to achieve their selfish agenda. Police should, in fact, investigate them," Bakkabulindi said.

He further condemned forums, including media, which teachers use to air their grievances. He also mocked schools under the public partnership programme (PPP) that had joined the striking fray, saying they were free to pull out of the partnership if they felt cheated.

"These people are trying to squander the future of Ugandans, and that is criminal. How do you claim to advocate for quality education when you are telling teachers to stop teaching and students to stay at home?"

But on Tuesday, teachers got some respite when the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah, promised that Parliament would consider their plight and the ailing education system, which they articulated in a petition to the Speaker.

"You are already talking to the converted and your issues will be given the due attention they deserve," Oulanyah told the teachers' and civil society representatives at Parliament.

Their petition urges Parliament to intervene in, among others, the deteriorating standards and performance of primary schools. They want Parliament to amend the Pre-Primary, Primary and Post-Primary Act 2008, to require parents and guardians make mandatory financial contribution towards the provision of lunch for all children at school.

The petitioners further urge Parliament to increase the current Universal Primary Education capitation grant from Shs 10,000 to 22,000 per UPE child annually; and to push for construction of adequate classrooms, recruitment of more teachers to match with the increasing number of pupils, and increase teachers' basic salary from Shs 273,000 to Shs 546,000.

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