In 2009, May Mujinya joined Kitabi Primary Teachers College (PTC) in Bushenyi just after her Senior Four. Although she joined the college because she could not afford to continue to A-Level, Mujinya was happy because she had always loved teaching.
After two years, she graduated with a certificate in primary teaching and went straight into the classroom
“After teaching for three years, however, I was challenged to upgrade because I realised that my academic qualifications were lacking. Around that same time, the school where I was teaching demanded that they now wanted a minimum of a diploma for all teachers,” she narrates. This speedily drove her back to school in 2015, joining National Teachers College (NTC), Kaliro, for her diploma in education, which she believes was a great improvement from her prior qualifications but also an experience that enriched her as a teacher.
“For some time now, I have been thinking about going back to school for my degree because I believed that it would further my career and widen my horizons because each academic level gives a wider perspective and knowledge since there is a lot more to cover about the profession. I witnessed that when I did my diploma from certificate level, and so for me, phasing out Grade III and Grade V teachers has further confirmed my desire that I need to be a graduate teacher,” says Mujinya.
UNITE for better
In a bid to improve the quality of teachers in the country, last year, Cabinet approved a new Teacher Policy that also sought to standardise the teaching profession through continuous development and training.
As proposed in the policy, the government has now embarked on phasing out Primary Teachers Colleges (PTCs) and National Teachers Colleges (NTCs), setting up the National Institute of Teacher Education (UNITE), which will be housed at Shimoni Primary Teachers College starting next year.
In this arrangement, all PTCs and NTCs will be affiliated to UNITE and will thus be turned into degree awarding institutions. This also means that certificates (Grade III) and diplomas (Grade V) will be phased out to make all teachers degree holders. Additionally, teacher training institutions will only be admitting Senior Six leavers and practicing teachers with certificates or diplomas will be required to upgrade.
It should be recalled that in 2015, the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) conducted the National Assessment of Progress in Education (NAPE) where 12,300 pre- and- in-service teachers, and 164 tutors were tested for literacy and numeracy skills. Eight out of every 10 teachers could neither read nor solve basic primary level mathematics questions.
What NTCs say
Shedding light on how this arrangement will be rolled out and whether current students in PTCs and NTCs will be affected by the changes, Benjamin Turyahikayo, the Principal National Teachers College Kabale, notes that although this policy has been institutionalised, it is going to be a transition and a process.
“The body that is going to oversee these changes has to first put in place operational guidelines and procedures; instruments that will be used in the transformation. It is not going to be rigid, so students have no cause to worry that they will be thrown out of their courses before they finalise. In fact, we are going to admit students normally like we have been doing, until proper operational guidelines from the ministry and the task force are finalised and in place,” he explains.
As Dr Cleophas Mugyenyi, the director Basic Education, noted earlier as these changes were being communicated, as other PTCs and NTCs will be opening for and enrolling students, only Shimoni will be affected. “Shimoni PTC is going to be phased out and those premises are going to house the Uganda National Institute of Teacher Education (UNITE). When other colleges are recruiting fresh students to study for Grade III certificate, Shimoni will not,” Dr Mugenyi said.
A step in the right direction?
When asked whether this was a step in the right direction, Turyahikayo noted that by the time the policy was put in place, studies had been conducted for a long time and from different areas that showed there was need for improvement of the quality of teachers in Ugandan classrooms.
“So, yes it is a step in the right direction to improve and equalise teacher qualifications so that teachers are not treated as being Grade III or Grade V but generally as degree holders, regardless of the classes that they teach. This is what is working globally and so it is the way to go.”
This also means that Senior Four leavers will not be able to enroll when this policy has been fully rolled out which has left some parents with mixed feelings.
Amon Olong, a parent, is concerned that although this is a good thing, it will lock out many secondary school leavers, especially those at UCE level from getting into teaching.
“A big number of students have been going into teaching after Senior Four because some of us do not have the money to take the children through to Senior Six before going to a higher institution of learning,” he expressed.
He also notes that this is likely to affect the levels of enrolment into these teacher training institutes since the dropout level from O-Level to A-Level is high. In 2017, for example 70 per cent of Senior Four leavers who enrolled into secondary school in 2014 did not reach Senior Six according to UNEB. However, Filbert Baguma the General Secretary Uganda National Teachers’ Union assures Ugandans that there is nothing to worry about.
“Ugandans fear change and those sentiments will be there. But why should worry be on the teaching profession that it has very high entry requirements and not other professions?” he wondered.
He further noted that one of the challenges has been that the teaching profession had been turned into a last resort for many people after failing to get into the professions they want. He alluded to research done by the Ministry of Education and Sports which found out that 47 per cent of teachers were ready to leave the profession if they got another opportunity.
“That clearly shows the negative attitude towards the profession. So the ministry is devising means to attract the best students since teaching is the mother of all professions. So, have no fear, the numbers will always be there. We just need students with a positive attitude to education and not those that go there because it is the last resort or after failing, because teaching is a noble profession,” he explained.
Furthermore, Baguma enlightened that phasing out of qualifications is not new in education, giving an example of how Grade V tutors in PTCs were phased out.
“Practicing teachers will have up to 10 years to upgrade to Bachelor’s There are some without financial means to qualify because of their meagre salary and many responsibilities, and some nearing retirement; these may not necessarily go to upgrade but can sponsor their children to have a degree and then they can exit normally,” he adds.
Other education stakeholders
James Kassaga Arinaitwe, Co-founder Teach for Uganda also shared that as partners in the education sector, they believe that it is long overdue that government skilled teachers so that learners are taught by graduates.
“Even in other African countries, providing better skilled teachers has been a priority. I believe that graduates are better placed to offer the psychological support, leadership and bring to speed the challenges of learners. At a graduate level, they can be trained in a variety of skills to pass on to the learners,” he says.
Kassaga adds that this is why they hire graduates and top it up with further training so that the teacher is skilled, mentored, supported and has the right mindset to teach and give the best to our learners.
“Ideally, the graduate level is the way to go because to nurture professionals, you must hire professionals, so enrolling teachers that are motivated and passionate about the profession will be able to bring the glory of the teaching profession back,” says Kassaga.
The new institute (UNITE) will be responsible for training all the teachers in the country. Currently, NTCs train secondary school teachers at diploma level (Grade V) while PTCs handle primary teachers at certificate level (Grade 3) who are admitted with at least a Uganda Certificate of Education (Senior Four) but who can upgrade to diploma through NTCs.There are 10 private PTCs and 46 government-aided PTCs in addition to the five NTCs of Kabale, Muni, Unyama, Kaliro and Mubende.
UNITE will now replace Kyambogo University as the coordinator of teacher training in the country.