By Ezra Kasango
The week–long teachers’ strike which started with the would-be start of this third term and paralysed studies in government schools across the country had really assumed the kind of intensity no one (including the teachers themselves) expected.
Like to all the previous teachers’ strikes, the Government had responded to this particular one with the usual inconsiderate explanations and all kinds of patronising, annoying and sometimes arrogant threats aimed at casting fear and bending the teachers towards loyalty and humility.
These two attributes are widely believed to be characteristic of the teaching profession.
The record eight-day industrial action’s persistence and the overwhelming solidarity amidst all sorts of threats by the Government did not go without a significant loss to the school children as regards their academics.
They lost a lot of instruction and guidance and there will not be time to recover the losses given the usually short and packed school third term. Secondary school students, for instance, lost an average of not less than 30 lessons and quite immeasurable guidance and other kinds of very important professional attention given to them by the teachers.
All the losses, however, could be avoided because it was in the Government’s full ability to prevent the strike through appropriate communication. The teachers would have gone back to classes on the very start of the term had the Government found the appropriate diction with which to convince them do it.
The Government instead used what was probably considered the most effective and handy weapon –intimidation, probably because, after all, it had been previously doing the trick. This time, however, it was so grossly misused that it had a boomerang effect.
The district education administrators never went to schools to ensure teaching was done even after instructing them to do so in a press statement published the day before the term opened, which was a gesture of solidarity with classroom teachers whose pay slips are particularly miserable.
The description of the strike as a breach of the teachers’ code of conduct, the reminders about what the constitution says about ‘absconding’ from one’s duty for two weeks, the threat to have all the striking teachers replaced by the available countless jobless Ugandans, were all a clear insinuation that the Government can do without the stubborn teachers, who take to involving themselves in outlawed activities such as the industrial action instead of teaching.
It is no wonder that when the Government’s tone slightly changed to something acceptable to the teachers’ sensibilities, there was an understanding that saw the strike suspended.
It is quite obvious that if the Government had used the language they used in their last meeting with UNATU officials; the strike wouldn’t have been necessary, even without affecting the teachers’ demands immediately.
The writer is teacher at Iganga High School