In striking teachers, government has met its match

Raymond Mujuni

What you need to know:

  • And that is the heart of the impropriety of government’s proposal to raise salaries – first for Science teachers alone as the teachers of arts subjects wait ad-infinitum

The perfect retort I have heard in response to the rise in the salary of teachers of science, - and this came from a teacher of high regard, was; “Why don’t they use their language to teach science?”

It explained, in simple words, the complementary nature of education and the sense of community that it produces. It is impossible, for example, to teach chemistry without doing so in English – or relying on literature written in English. Just as it is impossible to write an essay in physics without keen knowledge of sentence construction and grammar.

And that is the heart of the impropriety of government’s proposal to raise salaries – first for Science teachers alone as the teachers of arts subjects wait ad-infinitum.

When Government started negotiating with striking teachers who were demanding a 100% salary increment, the Prime Minister then, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi took a hardline position, first threatening to sack teachers who did not show up to work and then later, with a string of meetings, settling for a 50 per cent salary increment for all teachers across three financial years.

It took nearly 10 years for government to uphold their end of a bad bargain.

After the 2011 downturn in the economy, the government took a major shift towards increasing local productivity; the argument was, local manufacturing matching increased productivity would spur market growth and return higher taxes for government whilst creating jobs. It was a simple argument, which, to see through, would require a major shift in government expenditure.

To construct infrastructure, government got major appetite for loans; borrowing more and from unorthodox sources to finance major infrastructure; dams, roads etc. That borrowing tipped the scale heavily in the budget and subsequent budgets from 2011 included, in each year, debt repayment and interest payment on incurred debt. This left little money in the cookie jar to do human capital development projects; so teachers’ salaries, doctors salaries, soldiers salaries – all of them stagnated.

The government didn’t truly appreciate the complementary nature of the gamble they’d taken; that for it to succeed, some short term successes in revenue increment were required to pay its workers better. It would make no sense for a teacher to walk past the Karuma dam when they didn’t have food on their tables at home, for example. Economists normally say; that development expenditure should work towards improving recurrent expenditure streams.

So, the problem that government is confronting in the teachers’ strike isn’t really one of salaries but it is the question of what does development mean for government human resource? Is it the brick and mortar that government is borrowing to invest in or is it a progressive surge in incomes that enable government human resource to do more and better with their lives?

And to solve this requires a bit of teaching around how different to approach problems, something teachers of arts subjects would know more about.

Even the great and mighty train of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics] has realized that to go far, it requires STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, ARTS & Mathematics]

Like the teacher pointed out, you can only teach great science using a language that has been taught.