One of the world's poorest countries is to crack down on teachers who desert their posts to moonlight in private schools, TES has learned.
Uganda has one of the highest rates of teacher absenteeism in the world. Now its government is attempting to tackle a major cause of the problem: teachers, paid to work in state schools, who are also working in private schools and collecting two full-time salaries.
The Ugandan government's own research has shown an overall teacher absence rate as high as 30 per cent in recent years, with 94 per cent of schools reporting absence as a problem.
Last year, a report from anti-corruption organisation Transparency International, using World Bank figures, suggested that only Kenya had a higher rate of teacher absence. India, Ghana, Senegal and Indonesia have also been identified as having particularly big problems.
The exact causes vary from country to country. In Uganda, alcoholism has been cited as a factor in some areas, but now the government is attempting to deal with an even bigger issue: money.
Harriet Kagezi, a senior official in the East African country's Ministry of Education and Sports, told TES that Uganda hoped to have a new computer system in place to track down errant teachers as soon as 2015. "It is a big challenge, which reduces the quality of school and teacher performance," she said, adding that teachers taking second jobs in private schools was a major reason for absence from their posts.
"They should be working in one school," she said. "They are supposed to [work] a minimum 35 hours [per week], which includes teaching and preparation time. So that shouldn't allow them to go to other schools." But government monitoring visits have shown that is exactly what is happening.
Ms Kagezi said it was impossible for the teachers to take simultaneous jobs in government schools because "we don't pay them twice".
"So what they do is move to the private schools where we don't have full control," she added. "We come across it because when we go to the schools [the teachers[ are not [there]when they are supposed to be.Even students in the private schools will tell us, `We have a teacher here who teaches in this government school.'"
State school teachers in Uganda are often not paid on time and earn as little as pound;70 a month, a problem that Ms Kagezi accepted was contributing to the moonlighting. "Salary can never be enough and that might be one of the reasons that teachers move to other schools," she said. "We have experienced strikes in the last few years from teachers complaining about pay."
But the crackdown will also cost money and Ms Kagezi said that her department was talking to a Chinese-funded Unesco project on African education about supporting the new computerised teacher management system.
It will include information from private schools, which already have to register with the ministry. Ms Kagezi said that the system would allow officials to check the profiles of private school teachers against lists of government-paid staff.
She said there was no chance of private schools suffering staff shortages as a result of the crackdown. "We still have teachers in the system who are not yet employed," she added.
The scheme is not the first idea the Ugandan government has had for solving the problem of teacher absence. Last year, finance minister Maria Kiwanuka said that the government had been piloting a telephone hotline that allowed parents to report teachers if they passed a school and saw children playing outside when they should be in lessons.