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Lockdown: Private school teachers turn to begging

A teacher in class

A teacher in class

After more than a month under lockdown, a number of private school teachers have turned to begging to survive.

They are begging for handouts from sympathetic parents because their bosses, the school proprietors, cannot afford to pay them anymore as weeks of lockdown pile up.

Private schools are majorly dependent on tuition fees paid by learners to finance their operations. The abrupt closure of schools in March impacted greatly on the finances of private schools.

Godlove Baguma, a teacher in a city school, said in an interview that he was eagerly waiting for his pay cheque in March when schools closed. According to Baguma, he hasn’t received his salary to date.

He said the school proprietor was expecting to get money from parents on visitation day the following week. The father of two says he has been struggling to provide for his family. He said he sometimes begs parents for help.

Baguma said some parents send him between Shs 10,000 and Shs50,000, which keeps him going. His story is no different from many other teachers in the private sector interviewed.

John Jones Alimpa, a teacher in Lyantonde district, said he has also been reaching out to parents for help to make ends meet.

“You know it is disgusting. But it is the only option that one can resort to. Some give you and others will not because they are also struggling to live. But still I know that time will come when they can no-longer send even Shs 5,000,” said Alimpa.

Alimpa said he had hoped to ride his boda boda but he hardly gets customers because under lockdown, motorcycles are limited to cargo deliveries, which doesn’t work well upcountry. Rita Nabukenya, a teacher in Wakiso district, said she knew she was doomed when schools were closed.

“Even during the normal days, we are poorly paid. You wait for the salary for three months. Now at this moment we can’t even have any hope,” she said.

Josephine Ndagire, a school proprietor in Masaka district, said she feels sorry for teachers but she cannot do much. Ndagire said when schools closed, she paid teachers half of their March pay cheque.

William Ssembiro, the director, Villa Road primary school in Masaka, said he was able to pay teachers full salaries for the months of March and April. 

“If the situation doesn’t normalise we will have to pay them half salaries beginning May. In the worst case scenario, that is to say if the lockdown goes past September, we may stop paying them. However, we have assured them that they will receive their arrears since they have running contracts,” Ssembiro said.

Juma Mwamura, the general secretary of the Uganda Private Teachers Union, said they understand the situation of their employers but have asked them to provide some essential items like food but most of them have turned a deaf ear.

“We understand that they don’t have money but schools stock some items; they should give us some items like the maize flour so that we also survive the lockdown and discuss the issues of payment at a later time,” Mwamura said.

He said teachers are not considered a vulnerable group and were not listed among the beneficiaries of free food, posho and beans. Mwamura further notes that another big challenge of advocating for private teachers is the fact that most of them don’t have formal appointments with schools.

To make matters worse, there is no up-to-date statistics for this group of people. The Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU) has started initiatives at the district level to rescue their counterparts in the private sector.

The UNATU secretary general, Filbert Baguma, notes that since public teachers are still receiving salaries, they are mobilizing themselves to donate food and some basic needs to those who might be greatly affected.

“The initiative has so far been implemented in Bushenyi and Ibanda districts. Other districts have started mobilising but still we call upon
the district task forces to consider looking at this category of people as vulnerable,” said Baguma.

In the same development, the Federation of Non-State Education Institutions chariman, Patrick Kaboyo, notes that they are engaging the education sector to see whether they can come up with a plan to help teachers in the private sector survive during the lockdown.

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