For the last 30 years teachers' salaries have declined steadily throughout most low income countries, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
According to the UNESCO data poor salaries and the absence of teacher incentives affects their commitment to the job and in turn the quality of schooling. UNESCO found that absenteeism among teachers in Uganda is as high as 26% with most professionals opting to find alternative employment to supplement their incomes.
With government red tape holding back improved salaries and teaching incentives several schools across the country have opted to find their own solutions to the problem.
James Mwebesa, the headmaster of Kojja Secondary School in Mukono, says teachers at his school receive a food basket of rice, sugar and maize flour to supplement their diets at home. He explains that unlike in the past where teachers depended on the schools for accommodation and food, nowadays teachers receive consolidated salaries to cater for all extra expenses and additional incentives vary from one school to another.
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Richard Baalamya, a history teacher at Kojja Secondary School, says the incentives he receives from his school help relieve the pressure on him to find alternative sources of income.
At Nsanja Primary School, also in Mukono, teachers there stopped receiving income when Parents and Teachers Associations were removed in 1997. Margaret Ateni, a lower school class teacher, says she has been forced to top up her meager salary with loans from the Mukono Kayunga Teacher Savings Society.
The situation is different in many private schools. St. Mary's Primary School in Katosi, gives its teachers housing, breakfast and lunch.
Moses Opedo and Boniface Tukeyi, teachers at the school, say they are aware that their situation is much better than that of the teachers in government-aided schools. They say they are blessed to have days off to attend to personal issues and they receive fairly good salaries.
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In 1993 the Government of Uganda embarked on a Primary Education Reform Programme to remedy the declining levels of professionalism in teaching and the high labour turn over of teachers. As a result of this intervention the percentage of unqualified teachers decreased by half from 50% in 1993 to 25% currently.
Salary reforms were also introduced leading to a slight increase in enrolment at Primary Teaching Colleges. However the Uganda National Association of Teachers says the salaries are still far below the national average for professionals.
The Ministry of Education also recently introduced a revised salary scheme in which teachers are paid according to their professional grades. Many lower grade teachers, who have been working for several years are unhappy with this, arguing that they are not provided opportunities for professional advancement and should not be punished for this.
Sarah Nakamya, the head teacher of Bat Valley Primary School, says the ten graduate teachers at her school are benefiting from the new salary scheme. She says 20 other teachers have upped their qualifications and have also received higher salaries.
Nakamya, a holder of a Masters Degree in Education, admits that it is to the advantage of schools for them to have more qualified teachers.
The entry salary for a Grade Five teacher is 200,000 shillings.
At Buganda Road Primary School, the head teacher Beatrice Turyasingura blames government for doing little to improve teaching standards. She calls for a comprehensive policy to address this.