For over six years, Deus Kwitonda (not real name) taught English in various secondary schools. Because of his dedication and commitment to his job, Kwitonda had earned a lot of respect from his students, parents and fellow teachers. In fact some described him as someone who could turn anything he touched into gold because very few students ever failed his subject in the national exams. And that is why more students fell in love with his lessons.
This year, however, Kwitonda shocked everyone when he said he was quitting his passion for farming. But he had a short answer for whoever asked him to explain his change of heart: “I love teaching but I also need a good life.” From Kwitonda’s track record, it is easy to say he was an extra-ordinary character that gave his best despite the low pay. When he got tired, he retired to his small piece of land which he was fortunate to have. The challenge though is that not every teacher owns land or a business to supplement his income. So what happens when this teacher is fed up with teaching and yet cannot walk away for lack of another option?
According to research findings published by UNESCO in 2014, the quality of education improves when teachers are given all the support needed. This, according to the report, includes their income and other incentives to encourage them remain in the field of teaching. The research adds that it’s through this that the students will be able to get what they require as far as education is concerned. But what do education stakeholders in Rwanda think about that scenario?
Teachers speak out
Diana Nawatti Nsobya, a teacher at Mother Mary School, argues that teachers should be paid well and on time considering the amount of work they do. “Teaching is a service which requires a lot of passion, skills, dedication, creativity and love for learners. A good salary energises teachers to give the best to learners,” Nsobya explains.
Alex Kansiime, a teacher of business and entrepreneurship at Wellspring Academy, is even less ambiguous in his argument and believes income and quality of education cannot be separated.
“As a teacher, I must give my students skills that they can apply in real life situations. If my pay can help me solve my personal needs, just imagine how much zeal I will use to put my message across,” Kansiime asserts.
While admitting that their income is small, some teachers attribute their patience to love for the profession. “The work we teachers do cannot be compared to the income we get every month. It is through our urge and commitment to lay the right foundation in young people that makes us persevere despite the challenges we face,” Sylvester Gatete, who teaches at Apaper Secondary School, says.
But some attribute their commitment to God. Justine Namwase, from Wellspring Academy, says: “My salary doesn’t affect my work as a teacher because of the passion I have for it. It is by God’s mercy that we sail through one month to another considering the challenges we face.”
According to Abdul Ishmael, an English teacher at Natazi Secondary School, increased allowances can have an immediate impact on the quality of education.
“If I know that everything back home has been catered for, I will definitely work like a bee. And that is just natural for everyone,” Ishmael says, adding that some teachers have resorted to teaching in many schools in order to make an extra buck.
Because they are up-and-down, learners can hardly access them for consultations and this, in the long run affects their performance.
What parents think
Most of the parents who spoke to Education Times urged the Government and private school proprietors to invest more in the welfare of teachers if the country is to reap good fruits in the future.
“A decent pay boosts workers’ morale. A motivated teacher is more willing and prepared to impart all the knowledge and skills in the learners so they can excel,” Michael Ineza, a parent at Ifak Don Bosco School, says.
Similarly, Erick Rugwabiza, a parent at Apade Secondary School, feels that teachers can only concentrate on their work if they are remunerated well. “When teachers are not paid well, they look for other means of supporting their families. It is these errands that consume most of their precious time that would otherwise have been spent at school. This goes without saying that the performance of the pupils will be affected.”
Furthermore, Jasper Ngabo, a parent at Saint Patrick School, believes it is not fair for products of teachers such as doctors and lawyers to earn more than their teachers. “Teachers should be the best paid people, they shape and inspire students to become responsible and successful citizens,” Ngabo explains.
Just like Rugwibiza, Justine Ndayisaba, a parent at New Vision Academy claims that if a teacher’s plight is not prioritised, the students pay in the long run.
“Our children will pay the price of not being taught well if the concerned authorities don’t do something about teachers’ welfare,” Ndayisaba says.
Students share their experience
However, much as teachers usually attract sympathy from the public with most people calling for their terms to be improved, learners, who drink from these gourds of knowledge (teachers), seem to be divided on this issue.
Toussaint Mutsinzi, a student at Excella Secondary School, says: “Before increasing salaries of teachers, the government should first conduct a survey in various schools to assess the performance of teachers because some of the most vocal ones on that issue deliver less than 40 per cent of their expectations. Of course, some hard working teachers deserve a pay rise.”
But Pheo Musanze, from Saint Paul Academy, argues that the increment must come first and then the bad tomatoes in the profession can be sorted out later.
“Teachers should be paid well because they are the foundation for success. If they have no food at home or have a sick child, they will come to class in a low mood, acting so angry that even when you have a question to ask them you may fear to raise it,” he says.
Thomas Uwizeye, from Kigali Harvest School, maintains it is not how much one is paid that determines their output but rather their passion and commitment.
“Some people are paid well yet deliver shoddy work while some poorly paid ones have great results,” Uwizeye argues.
Ray of hope
Despite those challenges, not all hope should be lost, according to Rwanda Educational Board (REB). Authorities say they are working on special teachers’ statutes which will help them to be promoted according to their level of performance and seniority.
Janvier Gasana, the director general of REB, says teachers are still working as civil servants whcih makes it difficult for the government to treat them in a special way in terms of improving their income and their living conditions.
He, however, insists that REB plans to work with districts to address teachers’ plight.
“We are working out a strategy that will ensure that even the owners of private schools pay their teachers in time, remit the required pension contributions to Social Security Fund and provide them with health insurance as the law demands,” Gasana adds.
Although some initiatives such as the Umwalimu SACCO were introduced by the Government to help solve the teacher’s plight, some teachers still decry difficulties in accessing these facilities to improve their lives.
A teacher in Kigali who asked not to be named says processing a loan from the teachers’ SACCO is not easy.
“I applied for a loan three months ago but was asked for collateral that I could not afford,” he explains.
Another teacher who borrowed money from the group says he was given far less money than he had asked for which affected his plans.
Do teachers deserve more pay?
Egide Gatako Nkusi
School administrators need to ensure that all their employees, including teachers, are comfortable with the pay. Just like anybody else, teachers can work harder if they are motivated. However, they should be more preoccupied with teaching, not money.
Everyone deserves to be appreciated for good work. For long, teachers’ salaries have not been the best despite spending most of their time passing on knowledge to others. Some even go an extra step and spare their private time to help students who are lagging behind. Such a person surely deserves more money.
Teachers have families to look after and go to the same market as everyone else so they deserve an increment given their contribution to society. However, poor pay is no excuse for delivering sub-standard services to students.
Eugenie Nyiraneza, a teacher
It is our duty to pass on knowledge to our students and that is our main concern. However, that doesn’t mean our remuneration should not be improved. Our profession is sometimes ignored but it is a strong pillar for the growth of every society.
The issue of teachers’ salaries has been unresolved for long and I hope the Government is working on it because no one is happy to work for peanuts. Personally, I believe teachers should be the best paid people in order to attract the most intelligent people to the profession.
Robert Nkaka, a student
Good work must always be rewarded. Unfortunately, teachers’ efforts seem to go unappreciated. One just needs to look at the enthusiasm with which new teachers do their work and how it declines with time. I think they become demoralised when their work is not rewarded.