By Patrick Kaboyo
Article 29 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda on protection of freedom of conscience, expression, movement, religion, assembly and association states in (1), (b) that every person shall have a right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief which shall include academic freedom in institutions of learning.
Further, in (d), it states that every person shall have a right to freedom to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peacefully and unarmed and to petition and (e) freedom of association which shall include the freedom to form or join associations or unions, including trade unions and political and other civic organisations.
In realising the fulfillment of the above rights, the Government must market a code of conduct that promotes human rights, the rule of law but not project its energies in offering a code that is an effective tool to discipline errant teachers especially those involved in masterminding destructive strikes.
In ensuring ownership and credibility of the code of conduct, different stakeholders in both private and public schools, primary and secondary ought to have been consulted and involved in the process of reviewing the teachers’ code of conduct to ensure effective participation at different levels.
Much as the regulation is in place now, there is need for its serious dissemination to all serving teachers, student teachers, educational institutions and leaders at different levels as a matter of priority to ensure sustainability.
Sustainability must be our focus because the Education Service Commission regulations and the teachers’ professional code of conduct 2012 is good but not good enough in addressing the numerous challenges that continue to bedevil the education sector.
Aware that the education sector challenges are both systemic and systematic in nature, using guidelines that attempt to cajole any effort from teachers towards their demand for improved welfare and learning outcome is an attempt in futility. It should be noted that the code may not offer lasting solutions to addressing teachers’ demand for improved welfare ( call it, strike) and professional conduct , for the two, are different matters that require different approaches.
Sustainably, if government is interested in averting the numerous strikes in most schools, school governance and leadership challenge must be addressed now and not tomorrow. Students must be listened to and their concerns prioritised. Poor feeding, strict school rules, strict school administrators that are unapproachable, feared and not respected, abuse of rights, teacher absenteeism, poor boarding facilities, poor hygiene, discrimination and traditional behaviour of administrators, change of school heads without proper communication and feedback to all stakeholders, a poor and unknown school culture among school peers, child and adult indiscipline, immorality among school leaders, failure to live the school culture and philosophy, teacher negligence and conspiracy, absence of a clear school rewarding system, corruption and abuse of office, absence of parental guidance, poor mentoring and coaching for school leaders, academic and sports rivalry, prioritization for teaching at the expense of learning, denial of students to attend social events and special co-curricular engagements like school entertainment and excursions, among others, are the challenges that the Government must fight head on.
So, in dealing with the above challenges, the public needs to interrogate the current practice and behaviour of the sector leaders and managers in designing new laws and regulations as the public cannot help but to view the steps taken as a move to entrench the rule by law, stifling the realisation of rights and suffocating collective and meaningful engagement for dialogue.
Since a code is a set of moral principles or rules of behaviour that are generally acceptable by society or a social group, strict as it might appear, it must clearly spell out society’s behaviour for sustainable engagement rather than antagonism. The code must not come in place to put the leader of a union who goes to a school where they teach and urges students, parents and teachers to strike at the wrong side of the law but rather help in the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law.
The writer is the Executive Director of the Coalition of Uganda Private School Teachers Association (COUPSTA).