For the first two months of the Covid-19 lockdown, Mr Joash Opolot, 26, a teacher of Information Communication and Technology (ICT) in one of the schools in Mukono District, was confined to his one-room house.
But when one of his students brought her laptop to be fixed, it became a game changer. The student informed her fellow colleagues of his abilities and they started bringing their phones for repair. Mr Opolot finally realised that his destiny lay in his hands.
Later, at the request of his brother, he sat at a boda boda stage and started recording songs for people on their phones.
With currently two laptops and a minimum daily income of Shs50,000, he has resolved never to return to the classroom to teach when schools reopen.
“My current total wages are thrice my salary as a teacher and with the demand for campaign posters, I have rented a small room in Kamuli Municipality to work on several orders. I regret why I was being employed rather than employing myself,” Mr Opolot said.
He’s revelation justifies the fears that some teachers will not return to the classroom after schools reopen, posing a serious dilemma to owners (directors) of schools.
Mr Moses Mutaka, a teacher of Geography at Kamuli Grade Senior Secondary School, on Tuesday said the lockdown has given him time to concentrate on his media work.
He was able to buy a new camera and laptop after being contracted for one week by one of his former students at the Office of the Prime Minister to cover floods in Busoga Sub-region. The deal earned him five times his teaching wages.
“Teaching has been eating up a lot of my productive time and blind-folding me. I now think outside the box. I have become practical and the most important lesson learnt is to save and plan for the future,” Mr Mutaka said.
Earlier, in July, some teachers in Namutumba District resorted to making coffins for survival and openly stated that they will be preoccupied with their newfound job and turn teaching into a part-time career.
“Some of us have lost interest in teaching after trying out this new venture, which has proved more profitable,” Mr Isima Mwidu, a teacher at God’s Mercy Nursery and Primary School in Kibale Sub-county, said.
Mr Mulondo Waiswa, a teacher at God’s Glory Nursery and Primary School in Buwidi Village, Kiwananyi Sub-county, described the transition (from teaching to coffin making) as ‘brave’, conceding that the money is more compared to what they fetch will teaching.
“An ordinary coffin is sold between Shs150,000 and Shs450,000, which is a three-month pay for some teachers at a private school; teachers who have joined us in making coffins are reaping big and some have vowed never to return to teaching,” he said.
School directors speak
Mr George Byantuyo, the chairperson of Kamuli Private Schools’ Proprietors, said hard times await the reopening of learning institutions as teachers have moved on to do different work.
“Most private schools are not able to give anything during the lockdown and the staff feel neglected. So retaining them is going to be challenging for most of our colleagues,” he said.
Mr Paul Kaluya, the director of Rise and Shine Nursery and Primary School in Kirerema Village, Bulange Sub-county, Namutumba District, said he is not ready to reopen his school because he has no money. He said even if President Museveni reopened schools next month, he would wait until next year.
“Of course there is going to be a shortage of teachers when schools reopen because some of them have lost interest in teaching. They are busy riding boda bodas,” he said.
However, Mr Swaibu Kasadha, the director of Savanna Nursery and Primary School, Kigalama Village, Namutumba Sub-county in Namutumba, said he is not worried of losing his staff. He vowed to recruit others.
“I know some are busy doing other productive work such as farming and joining politics, but it is their wish to either teach or do other things,” he said.
Mr Alex Wamujjwa, the director of Kigalama Forward Nursery and Primary School in Bulafa Village, Namutumba Sub-county, said it is ‘sad’ to lose teachers rather than pupils.
“Teachers have lost interest in teaching. In a school, you rather lose pupils than good teachers because they are the foundation of the school,” he said.
Mr Wamujjwa warned that it is risky to recruit teachers at the end of the academic year. He said it can lead to poor performance because teachers have different ways of instructing.
Ms Mariam Munyaruguru, the co-director of Jinja Progressive Secondary School, said: “Some teachers will return as part-timers. They will first teach then ride their boda bodas later. I don’t think they will be efficient anymore.”
Reopening schools. There are merits and demerits of reopening education institutions. The main argument in support of not reopening the institutions is that learners should not be put at the risk of contracting Covid-19 in the name of education. It is emphasised that life is far more valuable than education.
However, one has to answer at least two basic questions – when will they find the vaccine or cure? What are the likely consequences of keeping the education institutions closed for longer periods?
The longer the institutions are kept closed beyond one year, the more the education system will be clogged. For example, if the closure lasts for two years, then no students will graduate from the universities for two years.
Further, there will be terrible damage if we lose a generation of children who have been stopped from going to school for several months or even years. All this will impact negatively on the country’s human resource plan. Thereafter, how will the system be unclogged? What will be the actual and opportunity costs of the clogging and unclogging?
How about paying teachers and other personnel in public institutions for no work done? Unless laid off compulsorily, the teachers and other employees in public education institutions will continue being remunerated for no substantial work done. What cost does this have on the Consolidated Fund?. What of the problem of teachers not employed by government?
Teachers not on government payroll are normally not paid when the institutions are closed. Many will tell you they bracing hard times during the lockdown.