If there was one thing you could change to improve education in your country…

By Emmanuel Anyole. Emmanuel lives in Kampala, Uganda. An avid reader, blogger and social critic, he describes himself as masquerading as a writer on We Need New Names and with the Africa Book Club.

The problem with the good old days is that they expire and what you are left with is a memory or a fantasy about the past; good or bad. Referring to the past, there is a joke common in Kampala which is said with a false laugh and through gritted teeth “The cost of living has grown in leaps and bounds yet our salaries remain stunted.”

In 2011, when teachers in Uganda went on strike asking for a 100 per cent pay raise, the government instead offered a 50 per cent increment, which would be phased in three years; 15 per cent in the first phase; 20 per cent in the second and another 15 per cent in the last segment. When the second phase arrived and the teaching fraternity sat in expectation of greater access to finances they were dismayed to see that the Government was not going to keep to its promise. Based upon this the Uganda National Teacher’s Union (Unatu) called for industrial action and teachers across the country went on strike.

I sympathised greatly with those that have taken up this noble profession and believe that if there was one thing I could change to improve education in my country it would be rebranding the image of the teaching profession and ensuring it got the respect it deserves.

In the East African region, Ugandan University ‘dons’ are the least paid, which has led to brain drain affecting institutions like Makerere University, once a leading hub for education in Africa.

In addition to coping with the high cost of living, the university lecturer is now accused of moral degradation, sexually transmitted marks, sexually transmitted degrees, sexually transmitted jobs and sexually transmitted promotions for those who want to pursue teaching at university level. Such a degradation of the educational system requires a Midas touch of epic proportions, professional competence and a deep understanding of complex issues. If for instance the collapse required no less than twenty odd years, you cannot expect to resuscitate the sector with a kiss of life.

The image in question has been clothed with a poverty mentality. It is no longer an option for teachers to come to class clad in fashionable and smart threads (except for the powers that be), what is in vogue is a portrayal of the plight of one’s yawning bank account, rubber sandals, a wash and wear t-shirt bought from the sprawling bend and buy institution (pun intended), presumably because they spend their hard-earned monies taking care of their children with nothing left for them.

In our time, whenever the stockings folded down our match stick legs we got lashes, our ears felt the pinch when the collar of our shirt was soiled with dirt and we perched like mosquitoes against the wall whenever we showed up late to class. We paid for our transgressions but it was mandatory to look decent as they say, “a healthy body is a healthy mind!” (as if that was not enough, we wore t-shirts emblazoned with that message).

Instead of ploughing money on useless capitalistic ventures such as the Glenevin Operational Risk and Security Consultancy to train the police in PR management [1], the government should invest in useful ventures.

In Britain for example, there was a teacher recruitment advertising campaign that rotated on a slogan, “No-one Forgets a Good Teacher.” [2]

Even if you did not go to an Ivy League school, there was usually that one teacher whose influence went beyond the figures on their pay cheque and was instrumental in helping you see the light at the end of the arithmetic tunnel, et al?

It was John F. Kennedy that made the statement; “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

The future is tomorrow, not necessarily the day after today. Change will require reformers and not mere politicians, reformers are dreamers, they take what is wrong in society and reform it, they create, they define, they legislate what is right; they do things that if they did not do them, would not happen. They make things happen, they understand seasons and timing, reformers are world changers, history makers.

In order to reform; the idea that budget allocation should be reduced from 24% to 17.3% is evil. This government ought to put money where their utterance is and we need some reformers in parliament to challenge the executive to put more into the education sector if not arrest the gross mismanagement of funds and corruption.If teachers were given respect in an environment in which they could develop and contribute to the development of their students it would transform education in Uganda today. Currently this ‘take it or leave it’ attitude towards them and the careless abandon with which they are sidelined from Government budgets has meant that they are often left unmotivated. This has a trickle down affect, how are they expected to teach their students when they are unable to send their own children to school due to financial difficulties?

So those who are able to, leave the country for greener pastures leaving ours barren, while others continue to hobble into education institutions doing their best to honour the career they so love despite the fact that their commitment to their students is not matched by the commitment of the government towards them.

In Finland, the number one profession is that of a teacher, it is not the most highly paid; nonetheless it is held in such reverence and respect. They are referred to as “the light of the nation”. By contrast, in my country they are scoffed upon and treated like filth.

You can’t bring change if you don’t back it with money, if we don’t arrest the leakages in the system, we soon shall realise that the cream of resources, the human resource, remains in theory rather than practice.



[1] The Daily Monitor, “Government declines to renew deal of Irish firm hired to clean image”, Saturday 18th August, 2012.

[2] The Daily Monitor, “When education, seeds are key to our future”, Sunday 02nd March, 2003.

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