Social Dialogues on School Performance: Teachers Accountability

 Jingxin Bao, UNESCO IICBA

Meetings between teachers and education employers are no longer an argument about salary issues.

On the 14th and the 16th of November 2017, two sub-regional social dialogues were held in Mbale and Gulu respectively for the Eastern and Northern Regions of Uganda. About 250 teachers, local government and ministry officials, private sectors, and development partners participated. In celebration of World Teachers' Day 2017 the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES), in collaboration with Uganda National Teacher Union (UNATU), organized these two events to discuss the key role that teachers should play towards achieving inclusive and equitable quality education. UNESCO Kampala Project Office and UNESCO IICBA attended both social dialogues.

Uganda is among the countries that translated and aligned national objectives to the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 4, focused on education, calls for 'setting up or strengthening mechanisms for institutionalized social dialogue with teachers and their representative organizations, ensuring their full participation in the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of education policy.' UNESCO supports the Government of Uganda through the CapED Programme to develop a framework for social dialogue on teachers' issues and to organize regular social dialogues at regional and national levels. 

During these two meetings, participants deliberated on the issues affecting school performance, as well as identified strategies for improving teachers' performance. The discussion led to an agreement on the fact that accountability does not easily rest with single actors; while teachers are reflecting on the irresponsible behaviors in the sector and trying to improve, government and other stakeholders will need to fulfill their responsibilities in order to hold teachers accountable. 

In addition, the social dialogues showcased country processes, systems and interventions that have been developed to improve the efficiency, motivation and management of teachers, among which included the new National Teacher Policy, the Continuous Professional Development Framework, the Teacher Motivation Framework and the Teacher Management Information System. 

                                            Participants at the Sub-regional Social Dialogue for Northern Region held in Gulu. IICBA is represented by Ms. Eyerusalem Azmeraw and Ms. Jingxin Bao.

Social dialogues and teachers
The UNESCO/ILO 1966 recommendations concerning the status of teachers and their conditions of work advocates for the promotion of the teachers’ status in the interest of quality education. On World Teachers' Day in 2016, UNESCO IICBA, African Union Commission (AUC), Education International (EI), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) approved recommendations including 'Ensuring that teachers have a voice'.

What is a social dialogue? Dr. Kanobe Victoria Kisaakye, Program Coordinator of UNESCO Kampala Project Office, explained that 'holding a social dialogue means - providing teachers with a forum to deliberate on how to attain and improve the quality of education; dialoguing on the accountability matters and critical issues focused on providing decent working conditions and adequate remuneration as part of the teacher motivation processes.'

Teachers are happy about this concept and they shared their views. 

'This is my first time attending a social dialogue. I liked it. It lets us bring our views - that means including teachers in the policy strategy and solving the problems that they have in their schools,' said a female English teacher from the Eastern Region. When being asked what is the difference between this social dialogue and the meetings that she used to have with education employers, she answered, 'The attitude, knowing more about what a teacher is required to do and learning more about policy. Now I can sit down and discuss about my rights, really going through the matters with the knowledge that I have learned.'

Indeed, these two social dialogues demonstrated that the meetings between teachers and education employers can be fair and professional. Teachers are sitting in the center position, leading the dialogues with the government and other stakeholders. They still talked about salary issues, the fairness and timeliness. More than that, they expressed their needs of professional growth, community appreciation and other aspects that help to hold teachers accountable. Their concerns and ideas for strategic solutions were recorded by UNATU and the MoES. 

Teachers are feeling empowered and motivated when they are offered a forum to voice their concerns. This is one major objective of the social dialogues.

                                                                                                                                           Enthusiastic teachers in discussion.
The events also served as platforms for information and knowledge sharing. The MoES presented the latest draft of the National Teacher Policy and the Teacher Motivation Framework. Teachers were amazed. They were taking notes incessantly, asking critical questions, and made sure to take materials home to study and share. The English teacher continued, 'I was able to learn how to establish dialogue with stakeholders, how to bring in partners and the school PTA (parent-teacher association), and together with the community to improve the performance.' Another female teacher also stated that she had learned about measures that she could use to address her concerns and she will share these measures with the female teacher reunion. 

'Social dialogues help us to understand what is happening in the classroom and what are the exact needs of the teachers. We also take this opportunity to introduce and disseminate the policy and frameworks to the districts. The political fraternity needs to be part of the social dialogues and also to hold a bigger social dialogue meeting at country level,' remarked Mr. Moses Wambi, Principle Education Officer in the Teacher/Tutor and Instructor Education and Training Department (TIET) of the MoES.

Performance and accountability
Participants discussed the root causes of the issues that affect school performance and poverty emerged as a top cause. Teachers are worried because students often come to school with empty stomachs and many teachers cannot afford adequate meals as well. Hungry teachers are facing hungry students, and yet they are supposed to teach and learn about health and nutrition. 'My students said "teacher, I am hungry." How could I blame them for a bad performance? They cannot concentrate. A starving child cannot be taught,' said a female primary teacher in the Northern Region. 

There are other factors influencing teachers' motivation and their performance. Recruitment, deployment and promotion are teachers' direct concerns about their careers. Teachers wish to have transparent and clear procedures and rules. This is also linked to the issues of political influence and corruption. During the social dialogue held in Mbale, a male head teacher questioned that: 'How can you teach students about integrity when integrity is not practiced? Look at the education sector - pre-service teachers cheat in the exams and diplomas, teachers cheat in evaluations, officials cheat in promotions, students cheat in schools.'

School leadership is another profound factor. Poor school leadership and management interfere with the performance in schools and learning outcomes, as well as create an environment that makes holding teacher accountable challenging. Participants argued that many headmasters in Uganda are not competent in the tasks related to administrative and financial management and education planning. Good teachers tend to move to 'model schools' and what makes a difference is school leadership. 'Leadership is different from management: it is about assuring and improving quality, accountability and motivation of a school and the teachers serving there,' emphasized Professor Joseph Oonyu from Makarere University.

Teachers understand that qualifications, being equipped and up-skilled are crucial for school performance. During the dialogue, they have called for sufficient and fair opportunities for continuous professional development. 'We need to learn about new teaching methods and pedagogy. We don't want to be left behind by our students,' said a male teacher from the Eastern Region. The MoES' presentations on the new National Teacher Policy - which addresses the integration of ICT in teacher education - and the new Continuous Professional Development Framework were embraced by the teachers. They look forward to the endorsement and implementation.

                                                              Teachers at the Sub-regional Social Dialogue held in Mbale

Teachers are mothers
Female teachers' presence is well assured this time. They make up about half of the participants. Three of them who attended the meeting in Gulu are mothers of infants and they brought their babies to the meeting. Female teachers are faced with more challenges, especially when they become mothers.
                    Female teachers are receiving a special appreciation from the participants during the opening of the social dialogue held in Gulu.

'I feel privileged to participate in this social dialogue,' said a teacher who has a five-month old daughter. 'But it is not easy. I have to find a babysitter who will take care of my baby outside of school setting. This makes me weak in the classroom because I will still be worried about whether my baby is safe at home. It is worse when she is ill. Sometimes people tell me that she is already in the hospital while I am teaching in the classroom. This is the biggest challenge that affects my performance, but it is not avoidable.'
She is also faced with salary problems and rent issues due to the lack of staff quarters, and these difficulties make her condition as a mother even more severe. In spite of that, she has never doubted her profession as a teacher. She said gratefully: 'I think it is my inborn feeling to be a teacher. I am always being proud. I have learned that Jesus is a teacher and from that foundation I love to be a teacher. Then it was at my P4 (primary grade 4) level when my senior female teacher told me that the first teacher of one's life is mother. I think that means all the mothers in the country are emulating Jesus.' She had encountered challenges in her P7 level because of the traditional ideas that take girls' education as a waste of money and time. She then prayed for encouragement and faith. Having done the best in the district evaluation, she got the scholarship to be trained as a teacher. 'I am who I am because of that scholarship.'
                                                                                                                                            'I am a teacher and a mother.'
Another teacher, who attended the social dialogue with her 50-day old infant, had not received salary for five months. But her first concern was that once she finishes the 60-working-day maternity leave, she has to go to the classroom leaving her baby to the babysitter. She wishes the government could extend the maternity leave to 90 working days, which will allow mothers to take care of their little babies at home. 'It will be easier after five months,' she said.

Way forward
Everyone has to play a role to improve performance and accountability. Participants came up with strategies at school, district and national levels. These strategies start with the government's actions including: harmonizing teachers' salary and guaranteeing the timeliness of payment, providing adequate continuous professional development opportunities for teachers, ensuring teachers' participation in education planning, enhancing school leadership, and endorsing and implementing the National Teacher Policy.

Institutionalization of social dialogues in Uganda is also what teachers and education employers want. Teachers hope that more stakeholders (such as the lower political wing, parents and community) will be brought to the board, and more teachers will be involved in the social dialogues. The district education officers and regional teacher unions want to organized more dialogues in the districts, 'digging into the grass roots'. Both teachers and education employers hope that there will be a regular follow-up on the endorsement and implementation of the solutions that have been generated from the dialogues - this is what will really make a change.

Mr. Filbert Baguma, DGS-Labour Relations of UNATU, was grateful that 99 percent of the stakeholders who had been invited were present, meaning 'they are embracing this idea'. 'You can feel their enthusiasm,' he said. Some of the teachers came through mountain areas to attend the meetings. There has to be a feedback for them. UNATU plans to hold follow-up meetings with the participants in 2018, which requires the mobilization of more resources.

After the conclusion of the social dialogue held in Mbale, a teacher said, 'I think it is going to be better. Because the discussion now is more detailed, and we talk about our concerns with no fear of being sent away of job.' She smiled and continued, 'It would happen if you argued with your boss.'

Institutionalization of social dialogue is one of the key components of the CapED Programme in Uganda. IICBA provides technical support to the development of a framework for social dialogues on teachers' issues, as well as to the formulation of the new National Teacher Policy, Continuous Professional Development Framework, Quality Assurance Framework for Teacher Education and more.

For more information, please check
Policy Brief on Uganda National Teacher Policy:

Teacher Support and Motivation Framework for Africa: Emerging Patterns:

Recommendations from World Teachers' Day 2016: