Thursday February 15 2018

Blame policies, not teachers

Since the release of PLE results about two weeks ago, head teachers, especially of rural schools that failed to get division one, have faced the wrath of parents, administrators and politicians. They have been transferred left and right, threatened with dismissal, locked up by angry parents in their offices, and in some cases, simply fired unceremoniously.
In Sembabule District, the RDC has given express instructions to the district education officer to demote all head teachers who failed to secure division one in the recent PLE.The RDC wondered why private schools obtain first grade while teachers who are regularly paid in public schools failed. In others words, he understands poor academic performance by children only in terms of the performance of the head teachers and their staff.
I was a pupil at the time Uganda got independence. I later became a teacher and an administrator. I believe it is wrong and selfish to remain when injustice is being done to my fellow professionals. This matter is not as simple as many people think. It goes back to the days when UPE was introduced in 1996.
Following this decision, most well-to-do parents, on sensing the arrival of poor children in schools such as Kitante, Buganda Road, etc, removed their children and took them to private schools both in and outside the country. As more private schools were established, public primary schools remained with mainly children of the poor. Today, private schools have become so fashionable that even the rural elite, who initially took their children to public schools, are shun them.
Left with ill-prepared and poor children who routinely skip classes, what miracle do we expect any teacher to perform? What spectacular results can a fresh graduate achieve in a classroom of 100 children? The thing is not about regular payment of teachers, but class relations and how it is played out. The deepening gap between the rich and the poor, urban and rural areas is not a creation of any teacher, but has everything to do with how our society works. Clearly, the teaching profession attracts hard working people, but with oversubscribed classrooms, and limited support from the public, not much can be achieved.
Then we have the constant external interference on teachers’ work, which has reduced their enthusiasm towards work. Apart from numerous messages flowing from the main offices and politicians which clearly interfere with teacher–pupil interaction, the constant threats and public warnings to teachers has whittled away whatever respect they had in the past. In the 1960s, for example, teaching was regarded as a noble profession and almost everybody wanted to join.
Due to the current obsession with test scores, teaching has become a robotic endeavour. It is no longer about encouraging thinking among students but simply about obtaining high scores.
Emurwon Olupot,