IT HAS become quite common to see glossy progress reports each day. You will often be told of how country A has reduced poverty or increased school enrolment. Declining figures of infant mortality are also often trumpeted the same way economic growth figures are reeled off iPads held by the men and women that don sharp suits.
It is, however, gradually becoming clear that the progress train must have left behind one key passenger – the teacher. Before I continue, let me state here that this is a subject that touches me to the core. After all, my late grandfather and late father were all teachers by profession. Not surprisingly, I have also done some years in a class as a teacher.
I admit that by my time it was not so ‘cool’ to choose a teaching career since over the years the respect and even earnings that once came with the job are now simply pieces of old stories and there seems to be no redemption.
That said, I would never trade the years I spent in class leaving a mark on young impressionable minds. The joy of seeing someone who sat in your class the other day (always seems like yesterday) now a respectable member of society is priceless.
Being called out in public as one’s former teacher is such a good feeling that reminds me of one of the first Kinyarwanda proverbs I learnt: “Umwarimu mwiza ntiyibagirana” (a good teacher is never forgotten). It is no secret that all the doctors, engineers, stock brokers and even politicians were once mere items on a teacher’s moulding table.
Today when I open newspapers I only see sad news about teachers. The profession seems to have suddenly inherited some kind of curse. Almost everywhere you look in East Africa the teacher seems to be getting kicked around like some kind of dead rat. In Kenya the school calendar now seems incomplete without the teachers’ strikes.
In Uganda it is even worse. When the lecturers at the region’s oldest university demanded for better pay, they were advised to go and look after goats.
Now the third term for primary and secondary schools is about to start and teachers in Uganda are threatening to strike if they do not get the 20 per cent increment they were promised. As always, the government line is that teachers should be patient because the available money is for more important infrastructure projects.
In other words, teachers’ issues are never a priority around here. And do not be surprised how the same money that is not available for teachers will be found when it is the greedy, almost useless members of parliament getting another pay rise or allowances to buy new cars.
The other day, here in Rwanda, there were reports that English language mentors from other East African countries had gone for months without pay and as expected promises to sort them out only came after the media had touched the subject.
In Tanzania, a country where the most famous citizen is better known as Mwalimu, things are even much worse. For a country with a known huge teacher shortage, reports that over 10,000 foreign teachers are about to be kicked out of the country are nothing but depressing.
Let us not forget that this is a country where foreign teachers need a $2,000 work permit (valid for two years) before they can enter a classroom. I understand that people must follow rules – especially immigration rules – but we are talking about teachers here not street vendors. Tanzania needs them more than they need it and you would expect that exceptions are made to address such a skills gap.
Even before they are kicked out, some have had to endure the embarrassment of being handcuffed in front of their students or exploited by gangs masquerading as immigration officials. Surely, Mwalimu Nyerere must be turning in his grave right now.
None of our glossy dreams for a bright future will ever materialise if we continue to treat teachers as though they were some new breed of opposition politicians. We ought to be ashamed for letting our teachers endure this level of humiliation.
It is sad that a region whose institutions such as Makerere – once considered the Oxford of the region churning out super intellectuals like Prof. Mazrui, Prof. Nabudere, Prof. Anyang Nyongo and Prof. Mamdani – has stooped this low for our Walimu. Shame upon us.