Private school teachers feel the pinch as virus persists

Dar es Salaam. For Mr Goodluck Ombeni, who teaches at Tusiime Secondary School in Dar es Salaam, the closure of schools to curb the spread of coronavirus was a welcome strategy.

However, it never crossed his mind that the move would in the end mean a salary cut.

When the schools were closed, he says, teachers were issued with letters to go for holiday; there was no condition that their monthly package would be affected, he recalls as he narrates his current tribulations to The Citizen. He says he was surprised to see an announcement requiring him to fill a leave form without pay and pending salaries for March.

“How will I feed my family, yet a large percentage of parents had already paid school fees. Why are they treating us like this?,” he queries. “I am now just like an abandoned worker. This seems like my employer no longer values the great contribution I have made to the school for the last three years.

“Only the government can come to our rescue. I hope the government will come up with a plan to liberate us soon,” says Mr Ombeni, whose agony and frustration is what many other teachers across the country are facing.

More than 89,000 teachers in over 2,000 private schools in the country are currently feeling the pinch following suspension of studies by the government in efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Another teacher in Moshi District, Kilimanjaro Region, who gave her one name, Margaret, says she is enduring difficult time. She fears of exposing her full name in a newspaper.

“I am a woman, not married and have a 2-year-old child who has been depending on my small salary that has since been ceased. So to whom should I run now that the government has not given us jobs in public schools?” says Ms Margaret(who fears making her real name public), a teacher at St. Timothy Pre and Primary school in Moshi District.

“It’s not me alone, she adds: “Most of my friends were employed by private schools like me and they no longer have jobs because of the pandemic.”

Mr Thomas (who also prefers using an unreal name), says he hadn’t been paid a salary for three months, yet he was also given a letter by his employer indicating that he would have to take leave without pay. “It’s an indefinite leave without pay,” says the teacher from Calvery Mountensori Pre and Primary School in Dar es Salaam.

“This was not the case before Covid-19. Employers used to consult us when it came to sharing a loss, but currently they do not even bother.” “My employer is quiet, the government is silent, ’he says.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Dr Leonard Akwilapo has since told The Citizen during an interview that the government no plans to bail out private schools so that they can be able to pay their employees. He said if the institutions had insurance cover prior to this pandemic, it could have helped them and their employees in such times of crisis.

However, speaking in parliament when tabling the education budget for 2020/2021 financial year, the minister leading the docket Prof Joyce Ndalichako said the government had laid out plans to rescue the education sector amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beatrice (not her real name) is a teacher at Engarenarok Lutheran Tetra Secondary school. She is facing the same challenge. She wishes she had been prepared psychologically. “I had not planned for this. At least, if we were psychologically prepared it would have helped. I have a sick father, he depended on me for everything,’’ she says.

TPTU speak out on the situation

The Tanzania Private school Teachers’ Union, secretary general Mr Julius Mabula told The Citizen that the union has been receiving complaints from its clients on unprecedented situation the latter was being faced with amid school closure. “Since February, this year, most of them have not received a single coin from their employers, some of them (employers being law-makers). Teachers in these schools are at crossroads on who cares about their fate,” he said.

“We continue to urge the government and employers to look at the pain that these teachers feel, we will not cease our move until we see a rescue for our teachers who take care of more than 700, 000 students in the country,” he added.

A Dar-es-Salaam based education consultant Dr Thomas Jabil suggests that employers should find alternatives to help their staffs even as they wait for government interventions.

“They should have at least opted to reduce their salaries and not stopping their payments. If unpaid leave was done in May, it could be understandable. Not in March as they did,” he added.