Teacher absenteeism slowly eating away at Karamoja

Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda recently released findings from a study conducted over a duration of three years into the status of education in Karamoja. The study found that the levels of teacher absenteeism were of untold proportions. ACCU’s findings tallied with what the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) obtained in December of 2017 showing that 60% of the teachers are not even teaching.

The study findings indicate that 29% of teachers are in school, but not in class, 24% are not even at school and 6% are in class, but not teaching. Further findings from the Ministry of Education and Sports indicates that 29% of teachers are absent from school on a daily basis across the country. It also shows that 59% of the teachers at school are time-wasting, literally not doing any productive work.

The study also found that constraints such as pupil-classroom ratios, pupil-textbook ratios, pupil-teacher ratios, accessibility as well as the education level and the financial situation of parents and/or caretakers were well below national averages.

Field assessment into the study involved key informant interviews with district staff, teachers and headteachers while questionnaires were administered to learners. Findings brought to light a number of factors contributing to teacher absenteeism.

These included the fact that a majority of the teachers come from districts outside Karamoja in the sub-regions of Teso, Bugisu and Sebei; low remuneration for teachers which has lured some into other trades such as boda-boda riding; lack of staff accommodation at schools; and failure to attract qualified teachers. The other issue reported was of late reporting and early departure which is also quite prevalent.

The implication of hiring teachers from outside the subregion is these teachers often want to return to their home districts and when they do so, they often delay to return. The lack of native teachers also affects Early Childhood Education, which emphasizes the local language as the language of instruction.

For this study, teachers were asked whether given a chance, they would prefer to work somewhere else outside the Karamoja sub-region. In response to this question, an overwhelming 72% noted that they would prefer working somewhere else outside the region. Only 28% said they would prefer to stay in the Karamoja sub-region and the majority of these were natives of Karamoja. This brings in the issue of attitude, which was assessed to be poor towards education.

Some of the reasons advanced for preferring to work in another area were; the need to change the environment, to be near their families, the quest for better living conditions and the desire to monitor their businesses and support their children in their home areas. Those who preferred to remain in the Karamoja sub-region gave reasons including; the fact that public servants can work anywhere they are deployed. Some who were deployed at traditionally good schools said they were proud to be associated with those schools.

Other reasons advanced for being absent from school included; illnesses, checking on families, domestic issues, attending workshops, visiting sick family members and attending official duties outside schools. A considerable number of respondents didn’t respond to this question for fear of implicating themselves.

Teachers revealed that they are mostly absent on Mondays and Fridays because they usually travel over weekends. Teachers are also absent at the end of the month and beginning of a new month attributed to the long travel distances to draw their salaries and visit their families. “Nabilatuk, for instance, lacks financial institutions such as banks. Teachers travel for so many kilometres to either Moroto or Mbale to collect their salaries. During this time, they are absent from school,” noted a respondent.

Teachers also always delay reporting back to school when a new term begins. High levels of absenteeism are also reported during rainy days when roads are impassable since some of them reside outside the schools.

Due to low remuneration for teachers across the country, some respondents argued that this has driven teachers into looking for additional sources of income. This is made worse by the fact that most teachers are servicing multiple loans, and hence the money that is available to them after paying loans cannot meet their daily needs. Some teachers have hence resorted to other business like boda-boda riding and operating small shops.

The majority of the teachers interviewed for this study also noted that they don’t receive hardship allowances that are usually associated with remote and hard to reach areas despite some of the schools in Karamoja being hard to reach.

Measures suggested to reduce teacher absenteeism include the construction of staff houses for teachers in some schools, enhanced supervision by the School Management Committees (SMCs), monitoring of teacher attendance by the district leadership and implementing a rewards and sanctions regime. Other measures are a daily registration and teacher tracking mechanism. However, all these measures have not stopped or even reduced the vice of teacher absenteeism.

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