Building education unions’ capacity for social and policy dialogue in Uganda and Malawi

published 20 September 2018 updated 7 December 2021

In September, Education International’s workshops aiming to improve education quality through stronger social and policy dialogue in the education sector were held in Uganda and Malawi.

In Uganda and Malawi, National and local level representatives of the Uganda National Association of Teachers (UNATU), the Teachers’ Union of Malawi (TUM) and the Private Schools Employees Union of Malawi (PSEUM) met to critically reflect on current education sector plans. They discussed the foundations for union-led proposals to meet teachers and students’ needs, paving the way for improved quality of education. The three-day workshops aimed to build members’ capacity to analyse education policy, combining theory and practice in a participatory approach.

Uganda: Need to develop strong proposals for improving the retention of qualified teachers

In Uganda, participants who met in Kampala to review the Education and Sports Sector plan 2017-2020, as well as the long-awaited “national teacher policy”, were concerned by the lack of clear proposals to improve terms of employment and working conditions of teachers. For UNATU’s branch President for Nakawa Winnie Tumuhariwe, “the proposed policy is just list of intentions, it is written for the future and leaves us with more questions than answers,” while teachers want solutions for the problems they face now. UNATU will continue to engage its membership to develop strong proposals for improving the retention of qualified teachers, looking at issues such as teacher deployment, induction of new entrants into the profession and career progression.

Malawi: “We have opened the box, seen what is inside and are going to act”

In Malawi, the analysis of the 2013-2018 Education Sector Implementation Plan and the 2015-2018 action plan carried out in Lilongwe was a cause of concern for participants, who understood that some of the polices already in place at primary level and with questionable results, such as having teachers work double shifts for lower pay, will be implemented at secondary level. “This workshop was more than an eye opener,” because teachers in the field “do not know what is inside the box” of education polices, but now “we have opened the box, seen what is inside and are going to act,” stressed TUM’s Vice-President from Pholombe, Stoneck Amosi. Both TUM and PSEUM are, he pledged, “going to work hand in hand” to continue analysing the proposed policies, in particular with regards to the deployment of teaches to rural areas and the need to attract more female teachers.

For Education International (EI) coordinator Jefferson Pessi, while it is discouraging that neither in Uganda nor in Malawi the participating unions had been meaningfully involved in the development of the plans and policies that affect their members professional lives, “the unions are now not only aware of the various policies, frameworks and guidelines that will be developed in the coming months and years, but they have also started to prepare a response”. According to him, “when education workers’ unions engage their membership strategically on policy issues and are proactive, national policy dialogue is strengthened and we are able to better the interest of our colleagues and our students in the classrooms”.

According to EI African Regional Coordinator Lucy Njura Barimbui, “the policy dialogue training for education unions is an inevitable strategy for the survival of teachers unions in Africa.”

Saying that she is amazed to see policies that guide education being developed in boardrooms without due involvement of teachers, she further warned that “this jeopardizes the implementation process and it is no wonder that after decades of UN declarations towards quality inclusive education, results remain minimal”

She also acknowledged EI’s “clear responsibility” to raise awareness among member organisations on the need to deepen trade union understanding of the critical role of social dialogue in accelerating the movement towards achieving the sustainable education goals.

For Jennifer Ulrick, EI consultant supporting the project, “with these workshops, small but significant steps have been made towards ensuring quality social and policy dialogue in Uganda and Malawi.” She went on emphasising that, “in both workshops, participants stressed the importance of teacher involvement in the full policy process. We are convinced that with enhanced policy analysis and development skills, it is possible for education unions to not only be invaluable policy actors, but to lead the way in education policy making”.

These workshops are part of EI’s contribution to a joint effort with UNESCO, the International Labour Organisation, UNICEF, the UNHCR, the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education to improve teacher policies in Africa.