THE teaching profession is one of the most challenging careers. A lot has changed over the years to turn the once cherished profession into one that ranks lowly among the ambitions of the young.
My grandfather was a teacher and on many occasions as I walk around our village in Southern Uganda, locals are happy to tell me not just the stories of him being a strict teacher but also the fact that he owned one of the best Raleigh bicycles in the whole village. Today, you will be hard pressed to hear a heroic story about teachers.
Teachers are at the bottom of the salary scale in most countries and many times when they are offered a chance to speak, you can be sure one of them will cry out for a salary increment. However, teachers do not just teach, they also inspire the younger generation to aim higher in life—this is the toughest bit of their job.
How can a teacher inspire learners to strive hard academically when none of them is envious of the teacher thanks to the tough conditions? Long working hours spent chasing after students who are not interested in learning, delayed salaries, nights and weekends spent marking scripts or preparing for the next lesson and little respect from parents who are quick to side with their rogue children in every small incident among others.
The lack of housing for teachers is another factor that continues to make life tough in the profession. Many schools in Rwanda do not offer accommodation to their teachers; something that compels them to seek cheap alternatives near their work place.
Considering what teachers earn (especially primary school teachers), accommodation is really a big challenge.
Teachers renting in the environs of the school are often neighbours with some of the students they teach. Where a teacher fails to come up with the rent money, an eviction threat or exercise may become a source of entertainment for a student staying in the vicinity—a move that serves to further erode the teacher’s dignity.
Finding accommodation in Rwanda is still a big challenge even when one is not a teacher since few people construct cheap houses for rent. Rwanda has often relied on teachers from the region especially with the switch from French to English as the language of instruction. However, these teachers are often discouraged by the troubles of finding decent accommodation in their new country of residence.
It is quite difficult to work if one’s accommodation is not resolved. The commitment made by the Education ministry to construct houses for teachers under the 12-Year Basic Education programme, was the best news a teacher could have hoped for this year.
According to news reports, over 400 houses will be constructed in different schools across the country. This is a relief to many who have had to endure the strain of renting accommodation off a meagre salary. This move will indeed go a long way in boosting teacher retention as well as the supervision of students.
I have mentioned before that when teachers live closer to where they work, close supervision of their students is more likely to be successful as opposed to when they stay miles apart and are only available during class hours. Many of the 12-YBE schools are in remote areas and free accommodation will make such schools more attractive to teachers.
It is one thing to have to do your best with a meagre salary in an economy with a high cost of living and another to have to struggle to raise rent for decent accommodation. The construction of teachers’ houses will go a long way in motivating teachers and restoring some dignity to the teaching profession. I hope private schools, too, can do something about this problem.