The closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that many teachers employed in private schools and those working in public institutions under private arrangements have gone home without pay.
Others have spent more than a year without working making it difficult for them to put food on the table.
Speaking to The Nile Post in an interview, Filbert Baguma, the general secretary of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU) said if the country does not learn how to live with the pandemic, many teachers are more likely to die of hunger quietly from their homes.
What is the fate of private school teachers who are currently at home due to Covid-19?
Covid-19 did not only affect teachers but they were hit harder, especially those in the private sub sector. At least those in government schools have continued to earn a salary but those in the private sub sector are really in bad shape .This Covid-19 has come with challenges but also it has come with a lesson to learn that you can not only rely on the single source of income and survive. Teachers have to think of other things to generate income. First of all being a teacher is one thing that does not stop you from doing any other kind of business.
Teachers have alleged that they did not receive the Shs 20 billion that was promised by the president last year. What went wrong?
The government had promised to give them the relief but it hit a snag when it came to mechanisms on how this money can reach them. It was practically difficult to send this money to the last teacher wherever these private institutions are, even when they tried to use the district leadership, they were still struggling. There must be mechanism through which money goes through and now in the event that it doesn’t to exit, that is where the challenge is.
How are the private institutions coping given the current situation of Covid-19 in the country?
Obviously, some private schools have been up for sale while others are just on the stand still. Most of them will not continue with the business because if you are hiring, renting someone’s building and you spend the whole year without paying rent, when will you cover that? You have rent, you have wages for staff and you are not doing anything at all for a full year, obviously coping up becomes a challenge.
Some schools are said to have intentionally concealed Covid-19 cases among the learners. What is your take?
First of all, it is unprofessional for you to have a patient and you hide the sickness but I think that they were doing it such that they can survive for a day or two not knowing that even when you hide the cases, time will come when you can’t hide. If you are hiding the sickness and the patient dies what happens? Where do you put the dead body? So that was an unprofessional way of doing things which is unfortunate because Covid-19 was not brought by anybody.
For the parents who had cleared their school fees a few days before the closure of schools, are they going to be considered in any way when schools reopen?
Obviously, the permanent secretary in the ministry of Education and Sports has already issued a circular indicating that these parents, when schools reopen, should not pay again. The only thing we can say is that this should not end on paper. The Ministry should be proactive and follow up this issue because the parents have continuously suffered in this lockdown.
There is growing fear that there will be a big number of school dropouts as many pupils have resorted to a number of things. What do you think?
The advice I can give to the parents, guardians and sponsors is to make sure that they keep a close eye on these learners. It is unfortunate because when you look at the report in the first lockdown, so many girls were abused.They were impregnated, they were defiled, and they were married off and therefore we would not like to hear a repeat of the same. Now that the children are at home, the parents, guardians and sponsors should keep a close eye on these children and make sure that they don’t fall into the same scenario as it was witnessed in the first lockdown.
Given the challenges brought by Covid-19, are you not worried that many teachers are more likely to abandon the profession?
The answer could be yes and no. Obviously, we shall lose some of the experienced teachers because there are some who have discovered that there are some businesses which are paying more than teaching profession. They will definitely not come back but there are those who have the passion of teaching who will continue with the business but at the same time go back to teach.
In your view, what are some of the strategies that should be put in place to keep these learners busy at home for these remaining days?
The major challenge we have is e-learning infrastructure which is not in place but the government should try to first track to make sure there is continuity of teaching and learning during this period. Even when we decide to teach them using televisions, radios, the signals don’t reach everywhere.
Do you think closing schools was the right move taken by the government to contain and prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the learning institutions?
It was not the best choice because among the standard operating procedures, we were meant to have a medical personnel in charge of the total number of schools, so that they are monitored. Now when you say that schools were hiding some learners who were sick, it means first of all the government failed on that aspect. It didn’t do what it was supposed to do. We need now to learn how to live with Covid-19 because we don’t know when it [the virus] is going away. We had the first wave, now this is the second wave and we don’t know whether the third wave will also come. And therefore we can’t tell when it is going to stop and we need to strategise and see how best we can live with it otherwise, people may die from home.
Why do insist that government should meet the cost of implementing SOPs in the public learning institutions when schools reopen?
You see under Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE), the funds are got from government and you have heard the president consistently saying that he doesn’t want the parents to pay. So if you don’t want the parents to pay then you must pay and therefore for implementation of the standard operating procedures, the government must meet the cost.
Recently, UNATU opposed the government directive compelling all teachers to take Covid-19 vaccine. Why?
You see under which legal frame work are they saying everybody must get the vaccine? Do have a legal frame work that compels government to say that the teachers must get vaccinated? Two, If it is not there, is it anywhere scientifically proven that it is teachers who transmit Covid-19? Three, is it only teachers who are in the school environment?