Tuesday, 30 July 2013

What is fuelling school strikes in Uganda?

Students of Mbarara High School and Ntare School 
Students of Mbarara High School and Ntare School who were arrested and held at Mbarara Central Station.  

Posted  Thursday, July 25  2013 at  01:00
It is that time of the school year when reading a newspaper without reports of a school strike would actually be strange. In fact, on the Jinja College students Facebook page, one student jokes that that the Ministry of Education and Sports should legalise school strikes and makes them part of the second term syllabus.
After all, the post by a one Jude Mwima argues, “from Syria to Egypt, Kacita to teachers, strikes are the new language that decision makers understand best.”
More than 15 schools across the country have had their school operations paralysed by student-led strikes, occurring in what could be described as a ripple trend. Most of these have ended up in “closure till further notice” by the line ministry. In Jinja alone for example, the storm started with Kiira College, Butiki, spread to Busoga College, Mwiri and only days ago, Jinja College. All these are government aided boys’ schools and arguably eastern Uganda’s giants in their own right. The momentum has since picked pace across the country, with pockets of student uprisings in the central region and western Uganda. The northern region has not reported major cases of the same.
So, what is fuelling these strikes? Why are they prevalent in second term and more so in the eastern and western regions of the country? Could some political mischief be at play? Is it a case of strained student-teacher communication or just a generational question on the part of the students?
The questions cannot get more rhetorical as Mr John Agaba, the Acting Commissioner, Basic and Secondary Education admits the ministry too, remains baffled.
“We have started investigations with eastern Uganda to get to the root of the problem. But why are these strikes always in second term? It is because these fellows fear mock exams so they cause havoc and of course second term is the longest, ” he says. We look at other reasons given.
Unruly students
For Mr Agaba, the blame starts and ends with the students. “Imagine a school like Kitagata SS in Bushenyi where students went on strike after a trip claiming they didn’t get value for money,” he adds. “In Jinja College they striked [sic] because they were told to read hard, they got angry with the Deputy Headmaster calling him harsh for that but why did they go to school?” This, he is convinced, is the reason the strikes rage on in small schools. “You don’t find them in elite schools where students know what they want and their parents value education.”
However, it should be appreciated that the schools in Jinja for instance, that went on strike this term are arguably the crème-de la crème in the region.
Mr Humphrey Ahimbisibwe, the former Headmaster of Ntare School says, “These are not strikes but riots. Those are undisciplined children who lack patience. There is a lot of emphasis on their rights and we forget the responsibilities then the ministry comes out quickly to blame school administrators.”
The educationist who retired last year, having presided over a period of some of Ntare’s infamous strikes blames the global political atmosphere too.
“Everywhere people are striking to get answers and change so these students have no good examples to learn from,” he shares.
Potent problems
Micheal Miyingo, a former head prefect at Kiira College, Butiki and now at a Malaysian university says, “School administrations just don’t listen and keep giving empty promises and the only language they understand is strikes. They have conditioned students to take strikes as the only practical way out for change.”
Once at the front line of a strike, Miyingo opines that the problem starts and ends with breakdown in communication between teachers and students.
Mr Francis Agula, the acting Commissioner secondary education in the Ministry of Education and Sports states, “It is a multi-dimensional problem because many schools are facing a lot of problems. The headmasters are failing to put in place what is expected of a school. We have just had athletics but some schools could not facilitate students and this angers them.”
Attributing this to financial constraints, Agula reveals, “the Ministry of Finance in the financial year 2012/13 released funds ahead of time and most schools thought the money would go in every term. Money for the other quarters was advanced at once. We alerted them that if you fail to plan for this money you are going to be in the trouble.”
So has the trouble that the ministry warned of started biting?
“Some teachers are using these students because their PTA allowance was scrapped in some schools. What they forget is that those allowances are not a right but a privilege. Once you have got your salary which comes in time, go and teach,” Agaba says, adding, “But what business do students have demanding for teachers’ allowances? Theirs is to study and not strike under teachers’ influence.”
In Busoga College Mwiri, students who spoke to the press premised their strike on the school’s declining academic standards with the former giant contributing only three students to this year’s public universities under the government sponsorship scheme. This, the enraged students argued, is because their teachers are not delivering.
Mr Agula admits, “It is true we have a shortage of teachers. In the recent past we had only 600 government schools but now they are over 1,300. So the teachers especially for science subjects find themselves teaching in many schools and failing to meet the students’ expectations. The result is strikes.”
A senior six student from Jinja College, who preferred anonymity agrees, “Imagine our teachers have to go for regular lessons in private schools in Kampala, they have no time for us because the money they get makes students in schools like Kitende a priority.
When we strike, they say we don’t know what we want but we are saying we also want to pass like those in schools where our teachers moonlight.”
Agula is quick to tie the situation to inflation which he argues has disfigured school budgets.
“Head teachers budgeted for specific prices but prices of goods have risen so when you hear students talking of our rights it doesn’t make sense.” On top of this, he explains, “School administrations have failed to collect fees from parents, may be because of poverty but it is a crisis and schools cannot provide services.” One teacher in a school in Jinja, who preferred anonymity said that by the time the students went on strike, more than half of them had not cleared the fees to zero balance.
Politics at play
Man is naturally a political animal and educationists point to the same in the prevalent strikes. Mid last year, Mr Daudi Hasahya Mulongo, then Headmaster Kiira College, Butiki blamed the strike on, “people who want my job and are just using students.” He has since been transferred to Manjasi High School in Tororo.
“Some times it is just intrigue within the administrators, some clamouring for the big man’s job and others are teachers in other schools eyeing the same job and fuelling strikes to pave their way,” Ahimbisibwe ays.
Moral and generational issues abound
Ms Juliet Muwanguzi, a counsellor and teacher of literature in English at Kiira College, Butiki says, “There is a bit of laxity.
These kids have their own high expectations. They have their own perception of their human rights and freedoms. When leaders come up to intervene they reject that old time direction and define their own direction. It is a generational problem that calls for prayer and better parenting.”
Similarly, Ahimbisibwe in trying to explain why the strikes are centred in the eastern and western parts of the nation says, “It goes back to our value chain systems. To be frank with you, students in Buganda are well groomed, you won’t find a Muganda child throwing stones at an elder. In the west they will throw stones at the Headmaster’s car! Some even tell you they know ‘big’ people in government.”
Agula too explains through the same moralist lens, “Students in the west and east have not gone through much suffering. A student in the north knows should the school close, an opportunity to study is gone. The same reason you find strikes in Busoga and rarely hear of them in Teso where children have suffered.”
The psychology of a strike
It has always been observed that the everyday issues that keep coming up when schools go on strike like poor quality food, an incompetent administrations are a manifestation of several cumulative and underlying factors. According to Mr Henry Nsubuga, the Manager Makerere University Counselling and Guidance Centre, “Often times these strikes erupt when students feel they are pushed against the wall, they feel nobody listens to them and their complaints or ideas fall on deaf ears. In that case the only way to prove their point is by going violent, especially if they are convinced it will work.”
Bad examples from society
No doubt society is getting more polarised, the language of strikes and violence is spreading across the world. This trend of events, Nsubuga explains, gives students, who are arguably at the most vibrant and radical stages of their life, the impression that borrowing a leaf from those who achieve change through violence will work in their own situations.
“We [humans] are influenced by what we see, there is that tendency to copy and try out what we see to solve our own challenges, that is why you find in one region or district, schools going on strike in a successive order. They [students] imagine they too can achieve what their peers on the other end achieved by going violent regardless of unique circumstances,” Nsubuga asserts.
Peer pressure
For some, however, the conviction to throw stones and hurl threatening slogans does not have to be induced by violent scenes from Syria or Egypt. It takes the influence of fellow students to get them towing the line of strikes. “It could be a question of peer influence; as human beings we tend to conform. Some of those students, especially the gullible ones take part in strikes out of peer pressure even when they have no conviction in the cause. Group influence has such a big impact on how they perceive situations at school and eventually react,” the counselling psychologist notes.
What runs in their mind?
The motivation to go on strike, he observes, determines what runs in the mind of that student on strike and their behaviour during the same.
“If the student is motivated by genuine conviction, say really pertinent issues that touch him, he will be extremely bitter but with the mind and actions geared towards achieving positive change or making their point. But for one who has just been influenced, they will tend to act recklessly and with excitement,” he says.
Explaining the trend
On why the trend of these strikes tends to be concentrated in up-country schools in the east and west, Nsubuga attributes this to the human tendency to draw comparisons and contrasts. Students in the central region for instance, where strikes are rare, are arguably better off than their upcountry peers in terms of quality of services offered.
“If I may, I can compare schools in central to the western world and those upcountry to third world countries, you notice that the western world does not take issues of welfare for granted, citizens (in this case students and parents) are actively involved in decision making unlike in the third world,” he says, adding, ”so these students up-country compare themselves to their peers elsewhere and demand for the same services at all costs. It is a really a question of psychology.” 
Schools whose students went on strike this term
Busoga College Mwiri, Jinja
St. John Bosco Wakitaka Jinja
Jinja College
MM College, Wairaka Jinja
Comboni Secondary School, Bushenyi
Kitagata SS Mitooma
Kashaka Girls School Mbarara
Mutolere SS-Kisoro
Eden International School-Mbarara
Muntuyera High School-Ntungamo
Kyeizooba Girls School-Bushenyi
Bassajabalaba SS Bushenyi
Preventing strikes
Ms Victoria Kisarale, the headmistress of Gayaza High School shares her success story on keeping strikes at bay. “Communication is very critical, I tell my girls whenever I am travelling, the purpose and when I will return. At the start of the year I got complaints from the suggestion box about bad beans. I called an assembly and apologised. I heartily apologise to them and they know I am not doing it for the sake.”
She adds that the school administrators have established structures where student leaders meet them every Tuesday and either party is called to account with an appreciable degree of honesty and openness.
Kisarale believes, “These students are the primary consumers of our services so we have to be open with them. I break down the school budget and plans every term so they feel involved and part of the system. That way you cannot expect them to strike.”

No comments:

Post a Comment