By Awori Elizabeth
On 11th March, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Most teachers in Uganda were preparing to grade midterm examinations at the time.
They knew it would be bad, but they weren’t sure how much worse it would get. When the president issued a directive to have schools closed, they weren’t alarmed. They thought it would last a month, at most. But a month turned into two, then three, then four, and they lost count.
They have had to cope with the harsh realities of unemployment. While teachers on government payroll continued to receive their monthly salaries, their colleagues in the private sector were forgotten by their employers. Who would blame them, though? They, too, couldn’t make money because their primary income source (students) were at home.
The President promised the teachers a 2 billion shillings grant but they weren’t excited. Why would they be? There is a trend in this country for promises to be nothing but lies, told to give false hope to the underprivileged. And if we are being honest, teachers in Uganda don’t teach for the money. Their salaries are meager and often come late, which affects their financial planning. When they heard that the grant had been swindled, they were neither surprised nor angry.
Teachers in the private sector survived by extending their services to about three schools. With the outbreak of COVID 19, most have had to do odd jobs just to put food on the table. They opened Rolex stands, joined construction work, started small businesses, while a number resorted to farming. Although some of them were ridiculed for “putting their degrees aside” and getting their hands dirty, they have managed to stay afloat amidst the high prices of food, hiked transport fares, unpaid bills, and consistent rent demands.
Today, as we commemorate World Teachers’ Day, do we celebrate teachers for making it with close to no support from the government, or do we pledge to do better by them? Do we celebrate them for spending their hard-earned money on data bundles to stay in touch with our children for any academic consultations, or do we urge the government and institution stakeholders to make them a priority? Must we continue to applaud their suffering? For how long must they suffer for the sake of our children and this country’s future?
Following the president’s directive on 20th September, in which he allowed candidate classes to resume face-to-face learning, some teachers have threatened not to return to school. They believe that since they’ve managed to live without support from schools for six months now, they can survive without teaching. Other teachers say they won’t give learners any extra time because they now have businesses to take care of. Can we blame them? Can we blame them for prioritizing themselves?