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When will the plight of teachers end?

The education sector in Uganda has been one of the most affected by the lockdown measures that the Government put in place to stem further spread and effects of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also a sector with many stakeholders that include the learners, teachers, proprietors of schools, and in some cases the landlords of the premises that were being rented out to certain schools.

According to the Uganda Schools Guide, the country has over 7,000 nursery schools of which the majority of teachers are women. According to the World Bank collection of development indicators of 2017, Uganda has over 17,000 private primary schools that employ the majority of staff as women. Statistics show that 80% of teachers in primary education are female.

These women have not worked for almost17 months and have lost their main avenue to make a livelihood since the first lockdown began in March 2020. Uganda was ranked among the top 20 countries with the highest number of days of full school closures between March 2020 and February 2021. Data from the UNESCO Global Monitoring of School Closures Caused by COVID-19 Pandemic Report (2021) highlights that schools in Uganda were closed for 149 school days during that period. However, behind the missed school days lies a bigger challenge for the teachers. While the closure of schools serves an important purpose during the pandemic, little attention has been paid to the impact of this on  the livelihoods of the thousands of teachers who are unable to provide for themselves and their families.

Sarah (not real name) walked into the FIDA offices in Wakiso district, narrating her ordeal about how she needed support from the father of her children to pay school fees so that the children could sit for their final exams. He ran away from home because he was tired of being the only source of income. She is a nursery school teacher at one nursey schools in this country. She had used up all her savings and she was wondering what is left for her in this dire state. She left me pondering deeply about other women in her category across the country who may be in worse situations caused by the lockdown measures.

The lockdown measures have continuously led to uncertainty in these people’s source of income. Even if these women have not been laid off from work, the reigning circumstances have left them as if they were. The phased reopening of primary schools did not apply to nursery and lower primary school teachers since they never reopened since closing down in March 2020. The other measure of the short-term relief of Ugx 100,000 by the Office of the Prime Minister cannot be said to be an effective remedy for this category as the majority did not receive it. This has now led to increased poverty levels and exposure to other human rights violations because even before the pandemic they were already among the least paid workforce in the country.  These women have been left to chance and luck on the way forward regarding their livelihood.

In a World Bank study on the changing role of teachers and technologies amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it is observed that governments of different countries have taken the initiative to provide alternative methods to provide remote learning.  In Sierra Leone, where the main remote learning channel is radio, a ‘live’ and toll-free phone line is open for students to call teachers with questions, and schedules the radio lessons to allow time for children to help their families with daily chores. The state of São Paulo in Brazil organized frequent two-hour conversations between Secretary Rossieli Soares and teachers through a mobile application developed by the state. The state of Edo in Nigeria trained all 11,000 primary school teachers who are part of the Edo-BEST program in the past two years to effectively use digital technologies in the classroom.  During the pandemic, this in-service teacher training program transitioned from in-person to remote training. Uganda could have implemented, at least, the radio program that the president had initiated and provided each child with one radio to ensure continuity in education at lower primary levels during this pandemic.

Uganda needs to address these issues by empowering people who have been affected by the lockdown measures and by investing in the necessary initiatives to replenish their sources of livelihood. Moreover, there is need to hasten the roll-out of our nationwide vaccination programme and the safe reopening of schools without any further delay.

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