There are three reasons why big science salaries alone will not result in an improvement in science performance.
By Emmanuel Angoda
Lira – December 3, 2022: The S.4 students completed their UCE exams last month followed by senior S.6 candidates a week after and the examinations (UACE) will run for 3 weeks. This year’s UCE and UACE candidates will be the first cohorts to have been taught by science teachers, whose salaries were significantly enhanced in July.
Next year, when UNEB releases the 2022 UCE and UACE results, many will expect significant improvement in pass rate in science subjects.
Since July 2022, graduate (degree) science teachers are now getting a gross salary of shs4,000,000, while Grade V (diploma) receives shs2,200,000. Meanwhile, the salaries for Arts teachers have remained the same (degree holders at shs1, 100,000, diploma holders at shs784,214), further deepening disparity and inequality in education. Yet ironically, in most schools, science subjects record a very low pass rate compared to arts subjects.
According to Mulemwa (2004), the average failure rate in non-science subjects in the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) every year is between 10 to 20%. However, the failure rate for science subjects is much higher between 40% up to 60% with the majority of the poor performers being girls.
Resultantly, due to the high failure rate at UCE and UACE levels, the number of students pursuing STEM courses at university is very small. In the end, you find that there’s scarcity of STEM graduates, and an oversupply of arts/humanities graduates. There are three reasons why big science salaries alone will not result in an improvement in science performance.
First and foremost, while it’s true that salary plays a big role motivating employees, without a supportive work environment, the impact of enhancing salaries for science teachers will be minimal, if any. Teachers on their own cannot do much to improve academic performance in schools. The head teachers, as accounting officers, determine a lot in schools, including creating a conducive environment for teachers and students to flourish, and succeed.
Secondly, the main reason for enhancing salaries of science teachers was to eliminate the need for them to work part-time in private schools. Many believe that part-timing in private schools is one of main reasons for poor academic performance in government secondary and primary schools. The irony is that private schools students pass highly, while students in public schools, where they spend less time, continue to fail. And this huge failure perpetuates the cycle of scarcity of science or STEM graduates.
Thirdly, in schools, absolute power is with the head teacher, who determines allocation of resources (budget), assigns responsibilities (delegates power), controls property, initiates policies, chooses who sits on the Board of Governors (BOG) and much more. For example, in some schools, much of the budget is spent on extracurricular activities, not academic activities. In this case, if little or no resources are devoted to things like science books, science equipment and experiments, reagents etc.
I doubt whether science teachers can get money from their own salaries to buy these items to use in class or science lab. Most schools only get to purchase these things for only final UNEB exams. The truth is science subjects are expensive to teach, and science teachers require budgetary support from the school administration in order to successfully improve learning outcomes and pass rate in science subjects.
My argument therefore is that, despite the improved salaries for science teachers, I believe that head teachers are very important when it comes to improving science teaching and learning in our schools. Now that the government has boosted salaries of science teachers, the remaining fight is to get head teachers to provide budgetary support to science learning and teaching. Without this vital budgetary support, science teachers cannot produce good results, especially in subjects that require science labs & have practical papers.
To guarantee budgetary support for science teachers, the Ministry of Education and Sports can set a percentage of the school budget that must be dedicated to science subjects or academics as a whole. This would then be followed up with close supervision and accountability to ensure this policy is implemented well.
Secondly, and most importantly, I hope that the salary enhancement will not suffer from the principle of diminishing returns. The law of diminishing returns states that profits or benefits gained from something will represent a proportionally smaller gain as more money or energy is invested in it. Beyond a certain point, an increase in salary will not automatically result in the improvement in performance. If shs4, 000,000 does not produce expected results, will it be increased to shs10, 000,000?
I am firmly of the opinion that big salaries for science teachers are a good thing, but we should put in place supportive interventions that will enable science teachers to deliver, and improve the pass rate in sciences. In sum, if the pass-rate in science subjects does not improve, we will be rewarding mediocrity, and looking down on excellence.
The writer is the founder of Triskelion Education and Skills Initiative (TESI), and teacher at Lira Town College.