It is high time we took note of teachers’ cries

What you need to know:

The issue: Teacher shortage.

Our view: We need to think hard and find long-term solutions to the problems that face the education sector and are eroding the appeal of the teaching profession.

Following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, life as we knew it got disrupted.

To prevent the spread of the novel disease that was wreaking havoc across the world, Uganda put in place radical measures such as shutting down the economy, imposing travel restrictions, and announcing a dusk to dawn curfew.

Among the areas that were most affected by the pandemic-induced disruptions was the education sector. About 15 million learners were sent home after all learning institutions were closed.

Stories of teachers venturing into other businesses then started making rounds. To fend for themselves, teachers, especially from private schools, turned to businesses such as boda boda riding, brickmaking, chapati making, trading, among others.

Following the reopening of schools this week, what some experts feared finally happened. A noticeable number of the 550,000 teachers have refused to return to classrooms.

In a mini-survey conducted by this newspaper around Kampala and in the countryside, teachers, particularly from private schools, turned down requests from their employers to return to classrooms.

Some schools have put up adverts calling for interested teachers to apply for the various slots, but have not attracted any candidates.

What this means is the burden is going to be placed on the remaining teachers. Even before the lockdown, some districts were said to be grappling with teacher shortages, especially in the government-aided schools. Dokolo District, for instance, had a staffing gap of more than 350 teachers as of the start of 2019.

The shortages are going to increase teacher burn out as they will be required to work longer hours and teach more pupils, not to mention how this will affect the quality of education.

With staffing shortages now extending to private schools, as a country we need to think hard and find long-term solutions to the problems that face the education sector and are eroding the appeal of the teaching profession.

Teachers have over time been frustrated, demoralised, and dissatisfied due to a combination of underpay and challenges at their work environments. Through their unions and associations, they have raised their voices and made their demands, but they were largely ignored.

To lure teachers back to the classrooms, we could perhaps start by increasing their pay so that they can meet the basics in life; take their children to good schools, afford quality healthcare and get good accommodation.

Also, government needs to come up with policies that elevate voices of teachers and nurture stronger learning communities to increase teachers’ influence and sense of belonging. Anything short of that will only worsen the situation.

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