Two days ago a professional Ugandan businessman approached me to ask me to reserve two good students from our nursery teacher training college who are graduating this year so he can employ them in his new nursery and primary school opening next year a few hours away from Gulu. He expressed interest in our students since he believed we were offering them a quality education and they would be very good teachers. He, like many other business-minded Ugandans, claimed he wanted to start up a good quality school.

At the end of our brief conversation I asked him what the rate of pay would be for our graduate teachers. He thought momentarily and replied: 150,000 Ugandan shillings (£30 or $AUS55 per month) plus accommodation.

Since then I have not stopped thinking about that figure and it has stirred up an anger deep inside me. I asked two Ugandan friends what they thought was the minimum amount of money they would need to survive on: just to buy themselves food, cleaning products and occasional trip to the health centre. One replied 200,000 Ugandan shillings (£40, $AUS75) a month; whilst the other replied 250,000 shillings (£50, $AUS95). A quick search online also indicates that the suggested 150,000 shillings a month is below the poverty line for Uganda, meaning our graduate teachers would enter the large statistic on ‘income poverty’ and not earn enough money to eat three meals a day.

I then shared with my two Ugandan friends why I was asking these questions and the figure suggested for our graduate teachers. As soon as I said it was for a graduate nursery teacher they said: ‘yes, that’s fair. That’s good for a starting wage for a nursery teacher’. I argued that they wouldn’t be able to live off that wage and one replied that their family would be expected to support them.

Government primary teachers earn four times that salary; whilst secondary teachers can earn up to seven times that salary. And if our graduate teacher wants to visit her family in Gulu in the holidays, she would spend more than 1/5 of her salary on a bus fare.

I’ve decided I’m not going to ‘reserve’ our graduate teachers to enter the wage market below the poverty line. I’m going to try and get our graduates the best possible jobs they can get from schools that will value them and compensate them accordingly (at least above the poverty line). And I do plan to discuss this further with the said businessman later in the year.

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