EASST fellow alumnus Dr. Saint Kizito Omala was interviewed about a project funded through the 2016 EASST Research Grant Competition in collaboration with CEGA affiliates Frederico Finan and Ernesto Dal Bo that seeks to examine whether a centralized teacher transfer system can improve job performance in Uganda. The interview, which was conducted by Tasneem Hassanali and originally published in The Citizen article, "In search of a remedy for poor education", can be found below.
Quality education is seen as a key factor in Uganda and one of the aspects the education system is focusing on is the issue of teachers' absenteeism, which is a core problem.
To combat this and other teacher delimiters, in 2014, the Ministry of Education and Sports of Uganda initiated mandatory transfer of teachers across schools in every five years. However, experts like Dr Kizito Omala say there isn't any evidence that shows that mandatory transfer will boost education quality.
Dr Omala, 49, is a lecturer at Makerere University School of Statistics and Planning in Uganda and has been in the teaching profession for 23 years now. He is one of the researchers facilitating the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) summit that is taking place at the University of Dar es Salaam. He is here to present his research work and also network with Tanzanian researchers to receive feedback that will have a global context and impact.
A teacher cum researcher, Dr Omala is one of the teachers in Uganda who were transferred without being consulted and this led to a disruptive time. This is what prompted Dr Omala to do a research to investigate whether the mandatory transfers of teachers will motivate the teachers and if it will aid to combat teacher absenteeism in schools or if this will worsen the condition.
In Tanzania like Uganda, officials too get transfers and Dr Omala's research findings therefore will not be limited to teachers in Uganda but in Tanzania as well and in all constituencies where officials are transferred.
According to Dr Omala, this will be the first-ever research to be conducted in the world to his knowledge that will examine the impact of transfer of officials across very different units on service delivery. In an interview with Sound Living, Dr. Omala revealed his motivation on the challenging reforms and how Tanzania could possibly learn from his voyage.
What prompted you to become a teacher?
I like staying with people and it was always interesting for me to share what I knew with a classmate right from primary through secondary school. My parents too were teachers. Teaching keeps me youthful, curious and trendy.
How important are teachers in one's life?
Today, the community doesn't highly esteem teachers in contrast to some 30 years ago when teachers were viewed as a locus of knowledge. The identity of a school are its teachers and not its building! If a teacher is an educator, he is the one who causes growth of awareness of the children and enhances their capacity to comprehend the opportunities that the reality around them presents. Simply put, teachers are a continuation of what began at home with our parents.
What prompted you to research on whether mandatory transfer of teachers in every few years to a new school is enough to solve the problem of poor education quality?
I taught in secondary school for 13 years and I found transfers without my input very disruptive. Transfers could be very detrimental to teacher's morale if he or she is transferred to a school without accommodation given that teachers in most rural schools actually live in their own homes.
Transfers also separate families and disrupt the learning conditions of teachers' children if they must move with their transferred parents. Students too must deal with getting used to a new teacher before they can eventually learn what the teacher is teaching. If transfers must be done it should be done carefully and with the direct involvement or account of key characteristics of the affected teachers.
Are you targeting a specific district for your research?
My study aims to investigate the impact of moving primary school teachers in Bugiri district in Eastern Uganda and on teachers' behaviour and children's learning outcome.
Why did you choose Bugiri district?
We want to look at Bugiri district because it has been ranked as the second worst performing district in terms of education. Schools there are heterogeneous and teacher morale is wanting just like all over the country.
A national survey on literacy in English established that only 7 per cent of standard six students were proficient in literacy in English. In other words, 9 in 10 students were declared to be incompetent.
So, it implies that there is an opportunity for engaging in finding out whether there can be an intervention of redesigning teacher transfers as a motivating channel with the possibility of improving students learning.
Also, it was possible to begin a study in Bugiri since it's an entity due to decentralisation. Probably to have a clear picture of the situation in Bugiri might enhance our understanding or reviewing of what is happening in the rest of the districts.
During the foundational stage of your research in Bugiri, what were the findings?
Bugiri district is a host to 145 public schools encompassing more than 1400 teachers. The teacher-student ratio by 2014 was 1: 64 and we found out that teacher absenteeism was high in Bugiri. 16 per cent of teachers were absent in 15 per cent of the school days. Simply put, if we consider that the school term has 100 schools days, it means 16 out of 100 teachers were out of school in 15 days of those 100 school days, which is a concern.
What are the cracks of the policy of mandatory rotation of teachers?
What is missing with this mandatory policy, are the inputs from the teachers. Most of the teachers want to teach in a school near their homes; social security is what concerns them. Additionally, on an average, these teachers receive less than a week's notice about their transfer.
The government of Uganda does not pay for the costs of the teachers' moving and finding a new place to live in. What we discovered during the interviews is that, the teachers had not showed up for a whole month, because they were sorting out the issue of accommodation, where to settle their family and so on.