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Open letter to Janet Museveni: We must reclaim the glory of the teaching profession

Last week, Mbarara businessman Bernabas Taremwa wrote to President Museveni urging him on grooming a successor and preparing to hand over the baton.

COMMENTARY | BERNABAS TAREMWA

Last week, I wrote a letter to President Museveni over issues that I strongly believe should be addressed to consolidate the achievements of his leadership while staving off current efforts by negative forces to destabilize the peace and democracy that Uganda is enjoying under the NRM government.

I’m glad I got positive feedback from almost entire party members and leadership in regard to the importance of the issues I raised and the need to discuss them further.

As a patriotic and concerned Ugandan, I won’t get tired of writing letters to my leaders and government officials on issues I strongly believe should be addressed to move the country to the desired level.

Even in the Bible, St Paul wrote close to 14 letters and none of them were ever replied to. But after 2000 years or so, the same letters are used as a guide for today’s wider society, and in fact are more relevant today than to those particular communities he was particularly writing to.

In my letter, this week I want to focus on how the education sector can be turned around to address what I believe is the biggest challenge in the education sector. And this is the appalling quality of teachers and the teacher training institutions.

This letter in particular, is an appeal to you Honourable Minister of Education and Sports, also a Member of Parliament and First Lady to find a solution.

Honorable Minister and First Lady, it is common knowledge that the current government has invested heavily in the education sector, and this can be reflected in the increase in school enrollment plus the improvement in literacy levels in the country.

Also in terms of infrastructure, the number of schools both government and private have gone up over the years. However, despite these achievements, a lot leaves to be desired when it comes to the products that education institutions churn out to the market.

The biggest challenge we have today is the youth, presumably being looked at as educated and unemployed. But that is a myth.

Honorable Minister, yes, institutions churn out thousands of youth to the job market, but most of them are half-baked and just carry theoretical documents out of these institutions with little or know skills relevant for the 21st century job demands.

However, it is not their own making. They are victims of a flawed education approach, which we should review from the perspective of making the teaching profession a preserve for the best in academics.

Honourable Minister, for example in most rural schools, teachers are a bunch of academic failures.

Even for rural and urban schools that are trying, it is because of the quality of the head teachers and teachers running them. There are some schools both rural and urban that are successful because of the quality of their teaching.

I live in Mbarara town and there is one UPE school called Mbarara Municipal School that probably has the biggest enrollment in the country–over 4000 pupils.

This school is unique in a sense because despite being a UPE school with very big numbers, it performs better than most private schools in the country. More than 90% of students who sit national exams at the school pass either in 1st grade or second grade.

There is a lot we can learn from this school. Its success has nothing to do with its location or infrastructure. Its success is purely based on the caliber of the head teacher who has been running the school and the teachers. The quality of teachers determine the quality of students who go through the education system up to university.

Therefore we must take radical steps to make the teaching job a privileged one that attracts the best. Recently, I was told a story of a head teacher who gave a PLE exam paper to teachers to do and some of them failed.

We cannot continue burying the head in the sand yet we have a crisis of unemployable youth as a result of a bad education system.

Our children are being taught by academic failures! And these are the same people we expect to produce future doctors, engineers, lecturers, architects, pilots and leaders like ministers etc.

Honourable Minister, I call upon you to review the terms and conditions of qualifying as a teacher. Let us review the minimum requirements for one to join a teacher training school. It is shocking that some of the teacher training schools take students who have scored below 40%.

Why can’t we make the teaching job competitive through giving even higher remuneration? In fact, teachers’ remuneration should be higher than for most if not all public service jobs. That way, we will attract the best into this profession and get it right again.

Other countries are doing it and the results are there to see. Ireland, South Korea, Malaysia, Canada and many others have high rates of employable graduates because of this approach. In these countries, teaching is a very lucrative job and teachers are among the most highly paid workers. But in these countries to qualify as a teacher is a hurdle, you have to be the cream of the cream in school.

On the contrary, in Uganda what we have as teachers are academic failures who are poorly paid and end up doing other things to supplement their meagre salary.

In the rural area where I live, it’s very common to find a teacher having two jobs- teaching at a local school and riding a bodaboda or vending in the market to supplement the meagre salary.

Honourable Minister, as a country we can collectively fix this challenge in order to have a system that produces employable youth and teachers who can train the best that the country needs.

The current wave of angry and desperate unemployed youth is a result of an education system that is out of touch with reality. We cannot blame the thousands of youth on the streets without jobs because they are victims of an education system that is not responding to the needs of this country.

However, it is not too late. My humble request is that the government reviews the policy on teacher training and recruitment and qualifications to determine who should be the ideal teacher in line with the current challenges facing the modern world.

Having teachers among the most highly paid civil servants, and a higher level of grades to qualify as a teacher should be considered.

We must reclaim the past glory and authority that was associated with being a teacher. Teachers were role models in society and generally enjoyed a decent standard of living back in the days.

Today, the profession is associated with failures and poverty in society. This is reflected in the products we churn out of our education system because they go through the hands of people perceived as failures and who join teaching profession as an alternative.

Bernabas Taremwa is a citizen

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