By Filbert Idha
The recent Police crime reports indicate increase in defilement cases annually and teachers still get a bad report card. A 2014 UNICEF funded study estimated that four out of 10 school girls in upper primary were in a 90sexual relationship with teachers. An earlier 2008 World Bank funded study estimated that 4% of schoolgirls in upper primary, about 43,000 girls at the time, were defiled by teachers in the past year.
Government officials always attribute rampant defilement to moral decay, negligence of teachers, parents and Police.
However, the real question is how can so many teachers that defile 43,000 girls in a year be recycled in the education system without detection? Reacting to a report by the parliamentary committee investigating sexual abuse in educational institutions in Parliament, the state minister for higher education admitted that sexual offenders are beating the system. The minister noted that ‘because of insufficient information’, teachers who sexually abuse children can be unintentionally transferred to other schools.
Insufficiency of information is fundamentally a coordination failure in the teachers' transfer system. The current system is blighted by several gaps, giving fertile grounds for sexual offenders to hide.
Firstly, educational stakeholders at different levels (ministry, local government, schools and parents) do not closely coordinate during teacher transfer. This was manifested in CAOs disagreeing or even reversing instructions by district education officers (DEO) on teachers as witnessed in Luwero in 2017. Or the common practice of schools, teachers and parents rejecting teacher transfers. In 2014, the DEO of Manafwa district was cited as ordering teacher transfers by word of mouth.
Secondly, there is no common understanding among stakeholders on the criteria for teacher transfer. Whereas years worked at a school and teaching load is easier to explain, the different stakeholders have loosely understood the criteria of teacher performance. Local government officials have precipitated teacher transfers based on the academic performance of learners, but teachers’ sexual behaviour is rarely on the radar.
Thirdly, the stakeholders have witnessed inconsistent teacher transfer practices with no explanation from the education officials. For instance, St Bernard’s Mannya Secondary School in Rakai District complained in the media last January about getting four headteachers in three years with no explanation from the education ministry.
These gaps in the transfer system provide opportunity for sexual offenders in schools to get transferred without notice. They can reject their transfers or worse still, some schools protect them simply because their academic performance record is good. Some bribe their way out of a school when some stakeholders are starting to raise complaints.
The transfer system has weak or non-existent intentional procedure to capture details of sexual offenders or suspects. We know how slow court process can be in defilement cases, but the ministry has repeatedly said the conviction of offenders is needed for cancelation of appointment of sexual offenders. Implying suspects are free to roam. The ministry needs to suspend suspected teachers until investigations are completed.
Secrecy around sexual offenders in schools remains a big challenge. Some headteachers protect abusive teachers by handling the issues directly with parents.
Some DEOs have also been accused of interfering with investigations when brought to their notice, a case in point is that of suspected serial defiler in Moroto whose case was reported last April, and he has been transferred to four schools since suspicions were first reported in 1995. We should make names of sexually abusive teachers public.
A lot has been done but so much work remains in ridding teacher transfer system of sexual offenders.
The writer is the project manager at Finn Church Aid, Uganda Country Programme