The dilemma of ICT Teachers in Uganda

Currently, there are thousands of teachers in Uganda who are not on the government payroll. A majority of these are ICT teachers. You see, when ICT was introduced to A-level in 2012, the government (through UCC) decided to retool existing payroll teachers for two weeks to teach ICT. However, most headteachers soon found out that they were lacking in both theoretical and practical aspects of the subject.

I was one of those who got an opportunity to teach, soon after completing my ICT degree. I knew very much that computer education was not well grounded and would offer an opportunity after campus.

The fight to join the payroll

In Uganda’s education system (primary & secondary), getting to join the payroll is a dream come true for teachers. Many take years (especially Arts teachers) before vacancies are advertised in the district. You then apply, do interviews and finally, if lucky, you join the payroll. Being on government payroll means you are permanently employed civil servant, pensionable and of course guaranteed monthly salary. It is like being on cloud 9, a distant dream. One time a colleague abused me that my name is written with a pencil (think temporal- hahaha). That’s the stigma & segregation teachers not on government payroll face every day.  And to make it worse, headteachers actually encourage it. In many government schools, there is always a collective tendency to downgrade, humiliate and overwork teachers not on “government payroll”.

For most ICT teachers, in order to qualify to join the payroll, you have to do a Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). After that, you register with ESC and officially you are given a number. After that, you can happily apply for opportunities within the ESC. If you are persistent & know how to get around it, you eventually join the payroll. As they say in Lira, your name enters (nyingi donyo) the payroll.

Chasing the payroll or going back for further studies?

If you decide to go back for further studies, it is a good thing. You have to decide very well. Will you do PGD in Education or continue with your ICT? I have seen many who have done PGD and also those who have continued with ICT. It’s your choice. If you do PGD, you officially become a teacher (by profession) and settle into the system. And if you choose the other route, it means you are open to other opportunities outside secondary education. This includes lecturing at the many higher education institutions & universities, or the NGO sector. The motivation here is to earn a living, not necessarily trying to get into the government payroll. Because, at the end of the day, you deserve fair pay and compensation for your skills, time and sacrifice.

Career Growth vs. Earning big.  Choose carefully. 

One of the most challenging things is deciding which path for follow- look for big money or grow your career over time. I started work in 2012. At that time, I was looking for a place to practice what I had learned for many years (18 years). I was not very keen on money. But after time, you realize you need the money as well. In our Ugandan society, we have an extended responsibility to take care of our siblings or just pressure to show your friends that you are now working class.

Our society also expects a grown-up man or woman to start a family, and believe me, no one will mind about our much you earn. Or whether you are on the payroll or not. But don’t mind about the pressure.

If you choose money, it means you will constantly be on the lookout for opportunities for making money (applying for jobs while doing a job). After all, you have bills pay. You may teach in many schools or do additional other jobs. The end goal here is money (and the end justified the means).  One time, I tried this approach but found that I was using too much money chasing money (hahaha). It didn’t make sense. I opted to keep one job and save instead. But you know people are different, you may be good at part-timing or making money look after money-whatever that means!

If you choose to grow your career, it may mean you take time to understand and do your job with great dedication and focus on things like relationships, partnerships, and promotion at the workplace. Starting as a classroom teacher, then assistant HOD, then HOD, Deputy Headteacher, etc. Or Junior Lecturer, then Senior, then HOD, etc.

I always tell people that our personalities and circumstances differ, and at one time, you may switch from one approach to another, or use both of them at the same time (which is difficult). What you have to keep in mind is that, as people, we go to the same market, same streets, and the same church. At the end of the day, we want to be self-sufficient, happy and be a position to take care of your family and raise the next generation. People spend nearly three-quarters of their lives working, whether paid or unpaid work.

As for me, I decided from early on, to focus on career growth (I was later made HOD). It allowed me to do work with dedication and distinction, and also establish a verifiable track record of accomplishment. In Lira, many people know me as “Apwony Emma”, and have received many favors and opportunities because of this dedication. Actually, many think I did BSc. Education. I spent 7 years in one school, and I don’t regret. But also in that period, I missed many opportunities & my friends jumped into them because they were paying much higher (NGOs, NIRA, EC, etc). If I get another job after finishing my master’s in Europe, I believe I will work again with dedication for 5 or 10 years. Stability provides you with space to grow, both in skill and reputation.

The good thing is that, the two approaches if used well, allow you to grow your career both horizontally (do more at the same level) or vertically (progress higher in career).

Establish a business (side income) and maintain good relationships.

I don’t like giving unsolicited advice, but I will try here. Having friends is good, and when you wish well for your friends and family, they often return the favour. As the old adage goes, “iron sharpens iron”. It is good to be with like-minded fellows, for both your work life and family life. Also, a little business is not a bad idea. It may be stocking g-nuts and selling it later and make a small profit. Or repairing computers over the weekend. And while it is important to make a profit, it is more important to be realistic. My approach has been making a small profit, over a long period, than make too much and fail after 2 weeks (I focus a lot on sustainability and long term). Additionally, a good wife or husband gives you the peace of mind to face the world (you have to make things work better).

That was all I had for you. Otherwise, I wish you all the best in your pursuit of a better life. Don’t allow anyone intimidate you because you are not in the payroll. Do you work, be optimistic and plan for the future.