Maternity leave: Education ministry could have done better

The Ministry of Education is looking for additional Rwf1.3 billion for teachers’ payroll so as to take care of payment for teachers who sit in for teaching staff on maternity leave.

The ministry says it needs over 7000 temporary teachers to fill the gap left behind by new mothers who are entitled to a three-month maternity leave just like other lactating mothers.

One can only wonder what has been happening since 2016 when the new law on maternity leave first came into force. It appears that public schools were left to improvise on their own to cover the vacuum whenever a teacher went on her maternity leave.

While a maternity fund was created to cater for such situations in the private sector so that new mothers don’t lose a portion of their salaries as was the case previously, public institutions were expected to make the necessary adjustments to ensure that longer maternity leave periods do not disrupt operations of institutions.

Yet, three years on, the Ministry of Education is yet to find a lasting solution to the situation, which could easily affect the quality of service delivery in public schools.

Such a situation is likely to tempt some head teachers to be reluctant to work with female teachers, or teachers to forgo part of their maternity leave so their students may not lag behind, or even give away part of their salary to those standing in for them.

All this is down to planning. It’s imperative that institutions learn to plan early, anticipate challenges ahead of time and adjust accordingly.

No teacher should be deprived of their right to full maternity leave because their students are stranded or their absence is forcing other teachers to work extra hours. Teachers should have enough time to bond with and breastfeed their new-borns without having to worry about work. Breastfeeding provides vital nutrients to new-borns and everything should be done to ensure this happens smoothly.

With better planning, the current situation may not have arisen, and it is our expectation that Parliament will avail the funds needed to address it.