KAMPALA — As science teachers have vowed not to return to class until the government commits to increasing their pay in writing, even though it made a UGX 700b intervention be announced.
As the strike enters the fourth day, arts and humanities counterparts who feel themselves turned down, have also joined the strike, reportedly to send a stern message to the government that wage hikes should be cut and that all teachers matter.
Mr. Aaron Mugaiga, general secretary of the Uganda Professional Science Teachers’ Union (UPSTU), told reporters that they would call off the strike only if the government gave in writing that their pay would be increased soon.
“The first time he made a verbal commitment that all scientists, including teachers, would get a pay increase, we later learned that $139 billion had been diverted for other scientists from us,” Mugaiga said.
Mr. Filbert Baguma, general secretary of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (Unatu), who supported Mr. Mugaga, said the government should commit itself to increasing the salaries of teachers and other public servants.
“Instructing that teachers should go back and teach is not enough. They should come out clearly to prevent confusion. The teachers’ money was not shown in the budget and hence they went on strike.
Shri Baguma also suggested that since the public servants including primary school teachers are facing economic challenges, they should also be considered.
However, Unatu distanced itself from the ongoing strike.
“We learned about the industrial action through the media, formally we are not a party. Firstly, science education does not start at secondary level, we teach science from primary itself, but thinking that they should be treated differently is unfortunate,” Mr Baguma said.
But the ministry has urged the teachers to call off the strike as the government is finalizing the process of implementing the Presidential directive.
Spokesperson of the Ministry, Mr. Dennis Mugimba said that striking science teachers should emulate their colleagues who are not participating in the ongoing strike so that learners can study science subjects.
“They should follow what their allies who did not go on strike are doing and be patient. It is a commitment that the government had promised and they will be paid as promised. The issue of salary is a matter for the entire government to look into.
We are also waiting for the money to come from the Ministry of Public Service, and [that of] Finance,” Mr Mugimba said.
The government in 2021 announced it would increase the salaries of scientists, an undertaking that would push their income above Shs4m as art and primary school teachers await the subsequent budget.
The teachers particularly want the Ministry of Public Services to implement the Presidential directive of August 24 and cabinet proposals to raise salaries for all scientists to Ss4m for newly appointed degree holders and Shs3m for diploma holders.
Science teachers say they are few, they are difficult to replace and high salaries will boost their morale and well-being, which when combined will improve performance in science in national examinations.
The strike coincided with the reopening of schools for a second term on Monday, and mainly affected government schools.
But on Tuesday last week, the Minister of ICT and National Guidance, Dr Chris Bariyomunshi, said the cabinet had approved Shs735b to increase salaries for scientists.
Dr. Bariyomunshi said a cabinet meeting chaired by President Museveni on Monday confirmed the wage hike effective July 1.
Since 2015, the government has awarded more than 70 percent scholarships to students studying science-related fields.
The government argues that promoting scientists will stop brain drain and accelerate economic development.
However, the government’s announcement has raised objections, with opponents advising that it should address pay discrepancies in all sectors, including considering wage increases for art teachers, as selective pay increases would destabilize the education sector.
According to Mr. Mugimba, there are 13,000 science teachers in government secondary schools who are on government payrolls.
However, he added that there are some that the ministry has posted recently but some local governments take a long time to put them on the payroll.
He said that in January, for example, the ministry recruited and deployed 1,000 teachers to various schools in different parts of the country.
As per the National Policy on Teachers, 347,219 teachers are employed in government and private schools.
The government directly employs 266,290 teachers. Of these, 184,275 teach in primary schools, 67,168 in secondary schools, 13,870 in tertiary institutions, 750 in primary teachers’ colleges, 227 in national teachers’ colleges.
On average, 45 percent of general and advanced level candidates fail science every academic year, compared to about 15 percent for arts.
Teachers in this publication have spoken out for fear that the government may back down from its commitment, and have vowed not to return to the classroom.
Mr Geoffrey Mugainzi, a teacher of physics and mathematics at St Edwards Secondary School-Bukumi, said he wanted the government to keep its promise in writing “rather than announce it through the media”.
“Since 2018, we have been getting promises that excite us but there is no formal writing we can refer to,” he said.
UPSTU District President Mr. Tawahir Musiru said that they are tired of waiting and they want the government to take immediate action.
The head teacher of Nakoma SS in Mbale town urged teachers to report back to school.
Science teachers in Toro district have stood in solidarity with the demand for a pay hike.
In many schools, teachers came but refused to enter their classes to teach, saying that “their patience has run out”.
However, unlike the government salaried, who are being paid by the parents under the Parent Teacher Association, they have not joined the strike.
Mr. David Sidialo, head teacher of Manjasi High School, confirmed that his science teachers have joined the strike.
Elino Omachar, the chairman of the secondary school science teacher Bukedi Chapter, said that it is only teachers with “decayed morals” who can go to the classroom when others are fighting for a common good.
At Kiira College Butiki in Jinja city, all science teachers are working as usual, saying that installing the equipment will affect both parents and students, who are innocent.
Mr Joseph Mwesige, a math and physics teacher at Kahinju SS in Fort Portal City, said he had not reported back to school since Monday.
UPSTU General Secretary, Ravenjori sub-region, Tinka Katukahirwa said that the teachers would return to the school after their leaders received formal communication from the government.
Mr Christopher Mulekwa, president of science teachers in Kalangala district, said that they would report on duty after their issues were resolved.
Although the education ministry reprimanded teachers for announcing an industrial action early in the term, the government continued to pay them salaries during the two-year Covid-19-induced lockdown